I don’t think it’s hard to hear David Bowie’s influence on my music. That seems as good a place to start as any. Bowie was one of those artists that made me want to create…and as a result, it sometimes sounded a bit like him when I did. The plainest example of that in my opinion is on my last album, “Something to Look Forward to…” (Even the ellipsis in that title was lifted from the fact that Bowie included an ellipsis in the title for his “Hours…” album.) I’ve had a couple of people talk to me about “Signal to Noise” off of that record and say that they thought it sounded kind of “Pink Floyd-ish.” But when I wrote it (and then it sat on the shelf for several years) I was afraid it sounded too much like Bowie and I didn’t want to rip him off. The vocal track especially reeks of latter-day Bowie tones. I’m glad I came to peace with it. It’s one of my favorites in my catalogue.
It doesn’t stop there. I hear his influence in “Earned” off the “Things I Meant to Say” record, too–although that might only be me. But I’d say in its production it has some similarities–intentional ones–to “Afraid” off Bowie’s “Heathen” record. One of my favorite Bowie records. Yet “Earned” is NOT one of my better songs. Can’t win ’em all.
It doesn’t stop THERE, either… Not in his influence on my music, and certainly not in his influence on my life. I (seriously) got into Bowie in my early 20s. I’d liked a song here and there before…I’d become aware of the “Outside” record and his tour with Nine Inch Nails as his backing band, and the fact that he’d stopped playing his hits and all that… I respected the fact that he’d become someone who didn’t care if people liked what he did–it was just important to DO it. But nevertheless, I didn’t become a fan until it was time for me to do so. That’s how it happens with Bowie. He finds you; you don’t find him. I was in my early 20s and saw a concert of his on TV. I started borrowing CDs from my brother, then buying them myself. I think you have to AT LEAST be in your 20s to get into Bowie. You have to have gone through some stuff.
The love affair was immediate and deep. If I were to sit here and list the Bowie songs that got me through something, this post would go on for three days. There are funerals that he got me through. And weddings. And crushes. And ended friendships. And road-trips to see friends. (I’ve never mentioned it to her, but I deeply identify “Everyone Says Hi” with my friend Amanda because of a specific road trip to see her where I kept coming back to that song. I think of her every time I hear it, and that makes me smile.) Even down to the song titles… He has a song called “Thursday’s Child” and I was born on a Thursday. It’s long felt like I was MEANT to be a Bowie fan. Sometimes music does that…you know they weren’t writing for YOU specifically…but you also know they WERE. Like David Bowie knew about every unrequited love, every sad mood, every happy day that demanded glam rock…and that the “Hours…” record is perfect for a rainy day.
I bought grey Chuck Taylors because Bowie wore them when I saw him on the Reality tour in 2003. And THANK GOD I saw him. I remember when my brother bought the tickets I was mad at him because they were $80 and I was working part time for minimum wage. Of course I don’t think that was money wasted now…CERTAINLY not now… Nor was the money for those shoes. I still have those shoes.
In 2012/2013, I was depressed in a way I don’t think I’d ever been before. It was the lowest I can remember feeling. I know people saw it, even in the times I didn’t feel it was right to talk about it. On Bowie’s birthday that year (1/8/13), there was an announcement that lit up my face so much I put it on Instagram… There was going to be a new Bowie record in March! He’d been away for 10 years and came back strong with “The Next Day.” And it was great. And it made me happy. Gloriously happy. Unapologetically, ridiculously happy in a way I didn’t know at that time that I still could be. That was important. That record means a lot to me because at a time in my life where I was having trouble finding reasons to keep caring or to even want to keep living–holy crap!–there was a new Bowie record! Bowie pulled me through it again, as only he could’ve done.
Last year, I picked up the career-spanning 3CD set “Nothing Has Changed,” which had a variety of outtakes, alternate versions, and weird stuff. Even though I was familiar with 99% of the material, the alternate takes were so unique it felt like a whole new album again. And although I wasn’t in the same state I was leading up to “The Next Day,” it still lifted me up… “Oh…even the old can feel new again…” A constant reminder that the target is only useful if it’s moving. And Bowie knew how to keep it moving. It made me want to move, too.
At work on Thursday of last week, I advised my manager that I was going to go to the record store on my Friday lunch break. “There’s a new David Bowie record out and I live by one rule–I always do what David Bowie tells me to.” I went and I bought “Blackstar” on vinyl and CD. Listened to it (on vinyl–it was important to me that my first listen be the vinyl) immediately on getting home. It’s wonderful. Rich and genre-redefining. As he does…did…
That was January 8. Bowie’s birthday. And on January 10, David Bowie died after an 18 month battle with cancer that it seems only his inner circle knew about. I read it first on his official Facebook page and I thought he’d been hacked. He’d been rumored to have died as recently as the day before, as well, to which his publicity people replied that he was, “alive and well.” Liars. One last character for Bowie to play–“Alive and Well.” It wasn’t until his son Duncan confirmed it on his personal Twitter page that I was anywhere near prepared to believe it. Oh God…we’ve lost Bowie.
That this comes so soon on the heels of another musical icon of mine is especially hard to swallow. I would often say, “If Lemmy dies, you’ll find me shaking my fist at the sky shouting ‘THAT WASN’T PART OF THE DEAL!’ But if Lemmy and Bowie die within the same week, you won’t find me for weeks…” It wasn’t the same week, so I guess I have to go in to work tomorrow (or TODAY actually…it’s 3:15 in the morning…) Nevertheless, I am feeling quite inconsolable tonight in a way I haven’t in a long time. Certainly not since Lou Reed died. Maybe longer. I’ve bid a lot of my heroes farewell on this blog from Lou to Lemmy to Roddy Piper to whoever else… But… This is BOWIE. How do you say goodbye to an alien?
Maybe you say “thank you.”
Thank you, Bowie. You made my life better. You really, really did. Thank you. My heart aches for Iman, Duncan, and Lexi, whose names I did not need to look up because you always spoke of them with love. See you in the stars.
That doesn’t feel like nearly enough. But it will do for now.