1.14.2016

Everyone Has a Bowie Essay, And So Do I


Ever since waking up Monday with the news of David Bowie's passing, my head has been somewhere else. It's been in David Bowie's world.

But I should first back up and say that I am one of those Bowie fans that a lot of scholars of the man would probably deride with a disdainful sniff. I didn't own every album. I never saw him in concert (though I'd always wanted to). I took David Bowie's presence in the popular culture and his status as one of the coolest and most innovative artists in the world completely for granted. In many ways, Bowie has never really been on a human level for me. He's always seemed at least half immortal. He was already hovering somewhere up above the rest of us, beaming down his talents like the sun.

And in his passing, I can't help but feel like the sun is now a great deal dimmer.
Oddly too, I feel my grief evolving over this in strange ways. I have not cried much, though I think part of that has to do with being on Zoloft. But in lieu of tears, I find myself completely preoccupied with him. I didn't get much work done yesterday, because I was researching Bowie stuff I didn't know about before, listening to songs on albums I had missed or completely forgotten about. My tastes for Bowie's music tended to fall to his earlier stuff--The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, and then jumping way forward to Let's Dance (I didn't concentrate as much on the Berlin years, though I'm making up for it now). I really lost track of his work after the late 90s, though I absolutely loved his collaboration with Trent Reznor, but I'm catching up on those as well.

But in revisiting this standards as well as the music of his I'd missed, I am struck by one completely unassailable thing: Jesus Christ it was all so fucking good. Even songs of his I wouldn't say are my favorites, none of them are actually BAD. There is such a wide variety of sounds, textures, themes, influences, and genres, but they're all united under this umbrella of cool, confident, intelligent, and completely rarified talent. The genius just fell out of the guy's pores like sweat. He never felt irrelevant. He never would have settled for it. He consumed as much culture as he could, past and present, and he continued to pave his way into the future.

But it wasn't just his music for me, which in one form or another has always been part of my life's background soundtrack. It was his movies too. Bowie was completely special in that he enchanted me with both artforms. I imagine if he'd written books too (something I've read he regretted not doing), he would have been a complete and utter god to me. The visual appeal of Bowie, his onscreen presence, was exciting and captivating. It could be even be a short cameo, and the movie was all the better for it. When he stepped through that storm of lightning in The Prestige as Nikola Tesla, I literally squealed in the theater. A movie I was already loving tremendously suddenly became one of my favorite movies, specifically because he was in it.


In fact, David Bowie was my first ever discernible movie crush. My father took me to see Labyrinth when it came out. I was seven years old and completely unaware I could feel feelings like that. I thought of him for years afterward, as I bridged into puberty. Seeing him again as I grew older was like throwing gasoline on a flame that had never extinguished. Years later, I introduced my kids to this same movie and they loved it. My daughter even had a Bowie crush of her own, probably because she could see a lot of herself in him. She has a similar creativity, a dare to be different mentality. I could easily call him a role model for her.


But WHY do I feel this way about David Bowie? What is it about him that captured me the way it has? Why do I look at this man and find a connection? I've never had the courage to be as visually expressive as he was, and my creativity will never be as avant garde as his was, but I have always had an undying and sometimes overwhelming attraction to people who color outside the lines and break the rules, who look at what we deem as "normal" and say "fuck that shit, I'm doing it my way." They look different, they dress different, they think different. They're bold when I can't be. They're daring when I can't be. They're in many ways my surrogates. They're my heroes.

I admit I have fallen down a bit of a rabbit hole since Bowie died. I'm watching live performances, I'm watching interview clips so I can get a glimpse of the man behind the persona. I'm watching clips of movies and shows he's done. I'm seeking out collaborations of his with other artists I admire. I've probably listened to his album Blackstar over a dozen times, not including right now as I write this. The rhythms have worn a groove in my mind. His voice, always remarkable to me, is even more beautiful with the knowledge that he was singing through the pain and wasting away of terminal illness. That someone could still be so brilliant and produce such beauty while dying is so inspirational to me. I have wanted to be more like David Bowie most of my life, but now I know I also want to be like him in death. Defiant and daring and creating until the very end.


In a sense, I'm attending a days-long memorial service inside my own head for David Bowie. It could actually be years-long. I might not show up to it with such intensity every single day as I have over the last few days, but the altar will always be there, and I will be putting flowers on it and lighting incense regularly. I'm so grateful that I got to be alive at the same time he was, though if anything, I think his light will carry on for generations to come.


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