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January 10th, 2016. David Bowie died Sunday. He had just turned 69 two days earlier.
I am not someone who gets emotional when celebrities die, they’re human like everyone else and if I didn’t know them, why would I get sad? This one is different. This one feels so personal. David Bowie changed my musical life, along with Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam and Nirvana I stepped into a whole world of music that was unlike anything I had been listening to up until that point.
I can go back farther than my teenage-hood music. Truth be told I had loved Bowie since I was a kid watching “Labyrinth” over and over and OVER again. He was the owner of the “Bowie Bulge” (an inappropriate joke but one that I think most of you get) and he was so beautiful I wanted him to be coming after me, I wouldn’t want to escape like Sarah did in the movie, I would stay with him forever at the marvelous ball and we would dance and he would sing to me. I thought he was magical. I thought he was beautiful.
Then I heard Ziggy Stardust and I KNEW he was magical.
These last few days have seen a deluge of Bowie videos and memories from all sides. Some are funny (like a skit Bowie did on Ricky Gervais’ show Extra), some are awe-inspiring (like the acapella version of “Under Pressure” with Freddie Mercury, I got chills, listen to that one here) and some are just plain fun to watch again (his Christmas duet with Bing Crosby is the best). David Bowie was an actor, a musician and an artistic genius who cared nothing for boundaries like gender or sexuality. He paved the way for Madonna, Lady Gaga and so many others.
I got the pleasure of seeing Bowie live once many years ago. He played some random music festival that featured Moby and Busta Rhymes. I was there for Bowie really and he did not disappoint, though he did go on stage almost an hour early because Busta couldn’t make it, so I actually almost missed seeing Bowie if not for my friend and I’s intense desire to see Busta Rhymes in concert for no other reason than we thought it would be pretty dang amusing.
My friend to this day says I started crying when Bowie came on stage. I don’t remember crying but I do remember being completely in awe of this man I had thus far only heard through speakers. He sounded exactly the same in person as he did on his records. He was beautiful, he was art, he was everything I had hoped for and more.
One of the best gifts I’ve ever received is a mirror that same friend made me with pictures of David Bowie all over it. That mirror has moved numerous places with me and I have repaired it more times than I can count. It hangs in my bedroom as I type this. It is a perfect homage to the man that I always thought was immortal and I guess, in that cliche way, he is. His music lives on. His beautiful, beautiful music. His legacy.
I read an update from author Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook and it helped me clear my own thoughts about why I was so sad about this mans passing, it’s not even sadness so much as being completely in awe, overwhelmed at the legacy he’s left behind. As an artist you dream about leaving behind a memory that thousands (if not millions) of people have. I’m sure not everyone has a David Bowie memory but I can say pretty assuredly that most people know either what song they love or what song they hate by him. They know who he is.
For the last 18 months (we learn only today) David Bowie has known that he was dying. He kept that information private, while spending his final months doing what he’d done his whole life — making outrageously original, beautiful, complicated art. He made a gorgeous album. He created a show, playing right now in New York. And then he released this, his final video, just a few days before he died — on his 69th birthday.
“Look up here,” he sings, “I’m in heaven.”
Can you imagine, to be making art like this (fearless art that both comforts and challenges) right up to the moment of your death? How do you do that? How do you BE that? To work with your death so imaginatively, in order to perfectly time out the last beats of your life? What a magnificent creature of creation, right to the end.
I am sad today, but mostly I am overwhelmed by awe. This is what it means to be a great artist.
From the beginning, this was a man who showed us how to do life differently than anyone had ever done it before, and now look how he has done death.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
Inspiration, to me, is THIS.
Goodbye to the master, and onward for the rest of us.
For me, David Bowie opened up my mind to a different type of music. He, along with Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam, made me see that there was more music in the world than Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. There were people like The Beatles and The Doors, people who may not always sound “pitch perfect” but who’s weirdness was a part of their music, it’s what made them shine so brightly. I remember hearing “Hearts Filthy Lesson” and just about having my brain explosion. The discordant, jangled song still to this day haunts me.
One of the best-worded responses to David Bowie’s death was from actress Carrie Brownstein on her Twitter page, it perfectly summed up the grief that I am feeling.
“It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone.”
If you haven’t had chance to hear some of his newest work, released as the perfect farewell to his fans just 2 days before his death, take a moment and listen to what’s being called “classic Bowie”, and you’ll find that these songs take on an added dimension when you realize that he knew he was dying and he was still as weird, as off-kilter, still as beautiful and revolutionary as he had always been.
Thank you David Bowie for all that you have given this world and thank you for making my musical world broader and better.
“Goodnight, sweet prince/and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”
Hamlet by Shakespeare
What’s your favorite Bowie song? “Rock and Roll Suicide” is one of mine. Tell me yours in the comments.