I am struggling to remember a year with a death toll like it. Then I realised it's not that more people are dying; it's an observer effectby Sam Leith / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
“The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who’s there?” So, in “Dream Song 36,” did my great hero the poet John Berryman express the problem. The grown-ups get scythed down by the grim reaper and you, still feeling yourself no less a child, eventually look around and realise that there’s nobody left to look up to: you’re it. Or, as Berryman put it in another poem: “Now Henry is unmistakably a Big One./ Fúnnee; he don’t féel so./ He just stuck around.”
Not, I should say, that I wish Prospect readers to feel gloomy. But I wanted to try to make sense of something that struck me recently. David Bowie went—we all noticed that. Also Alan Rickman, it felt like moments later; and then Terry Wogan. Those of us with semi-hippies for parents clocked Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane going; others will have minded more about Glenn Frey of the Eagles or Pierre Boulez of the classical avant-garde. I was pretty stricken by George Weidenfeld’s death and not only because I had the good fortune to meet him. And then there was Margaret Forster, too—whose list of achievements as a writer and as a person was remarkable.
And of course, though we mocked him, Ed “Stewpot” Stewart: he was the one who was from time to time addended to the roll-call of the recent dead as if a semi-ironic afterthought. But he had a whole human life, as subtly involved with Larkin’s “million-petalled flower of being here” as anyone else’s. The fact that, as a child, I got huge pleasure watching him present Crackerjack does not make him a comic figure any more than my memory of watching Clive James capering in a dickie-bow on the television at New Year can be regarded as saying something profound about Clive James.
So, not long ago, I found myself thinking: hell’s bells, there’s a more than usually rich crop of prominent people throwing a seven this year. (Clive James, oddly enough, distinguishing himself in this by not only not dying but becoming even more famous for not dying, and in consequence representing the opposite though more welcome surprise.) I don’t think that thought was far wrong. At…