I apologize to anyone who’s bored by me still babbling about Bowie. This was a big loss to me and I thought of (a lot) more to say. I’m not kidding when I say that the loss of Bowie was heartbreaking for me. If you’ve talked to me at any length about music over the past 15-ish years, there are some bands you’ve definitely heard me mention. Bowie must be in the top five. Probably top three. When I went to work on Monday, there was a part of me that was surprised to find buildings open and people walking around the streets. It seemed like things should’ve just STOPPED for a little bit.
Talking of stopping… I posted on Facebook yesterday that I had listened to “Space Oddity” for the first time since Bowie died, and I should have picked a different time to do it than when I was on the highway. I’ve been sad and had a lump in my throat over Bowie on and off a number of times over the past few days. I’ve been driving around with all the Bowie I own on “shuffle” via my phone’s music player. When I heard those guitar chords fading in, my first thought was, “Oh…man…” Then, “Ground Control to Maj…” and I had to pull off the road and just sob.
“Space Oddity” was the first Bowie song I ever heard and liked (as I’m sure many others can say as well). It’s one of those songs that I don’t often listen to, just so the next time I hear it it will be as mesmerizing as it should be–it could so easily become a cliché. It’s beautifully crafted and sad, but with a little fun and energy between verses as well. How can it possibly include hand-claps??? How the fuck did he do that???
I remember being a kid and having a toy “mixing desk” that had a tape player in it and some buttons with sound effects. You could play a tape and listen to it and add sound effects and talk over the music into a microphone, like you were running your own radio station. I played “Oddity” on that more than a couple of times, playing around with the sound effects, realizing it didn’t need any. I had forgotten that until this week. That song has deep hooks in me. I think it has deep hooks in everybody. Astronauts have sung it from space. U2 used it as intro music during their 360 tour. It’s iconic. And now I’m going to have to space out listening to it not because I want to enjoy it when I hear it, but because I’m not sure how often my heart will be able to take it.
I’ve also been listening to “Lazarus” a lot off of the new record. It wasn’t until he died that it occurred to me that he was saying goodbye. No one knew. NO ONE. Bowie had been fighting cancer for 18 months and it had been kept out of the press…but this was a guy who must’ve known it was winding down… It’s so clear now. Bowie’s always clear in hindsight. But lyrics like, “Look up here, I’m in Heaven” aren’t necessarily unusual for him. I heard the album the first time and it was sad and dark and beautiful and I knew there was a lot there to unpack…but my God. I never would have guessed we’d unpack it in one DAY. He knew EXACTLY what he was doing the whole time. The whole record is a swan song. Even the booklet is constructed of black paper with words printed in a glossy black ink. You have to hold it at the right angle to read any of it because it’s black on black. Mourning all the way through.
I’m glad to learn that it looks like “Blackstar” will be the #1 record on Billboard (a first for Bowie) following his death. SO MANY people didn’t know how much they loved him until he was gone–and I get that, and I’m grateful for those people. But I’m also glad I did get a couple of days to just purely enjoy it leading into his death. I got a couple of days to call it “genre redefining” and “brilliant” before everybody jumped on the bandwagon. And boy are some of those people going to be confused by what they hear! It’s so dark and so horn/drums driven. There’s not a lot of fun guitar on it–this ain’t glam. It’s pop-jazz, maybe? Pop Chamber Music? Yeah. That one. We’ve gone from glam to the grave. Bowie turned his own death into a work of art. Only he could’ve done that. Even at the time that I wrote my previous post, I hadn’t yet connected the dots. The shock was still too new for me to analyze the meaning.
I’ve been–is “enjoying” the right word?–the tributes from celebrities all over the world. My favorite and one of the only ones I went out of my way to seek out came from the guys behind The Venture Bros. (Read it here.) They are such big Bowie fans that he became a recurring character in their universe–Bowie himself didn’t voice the character, but there was a character called David Bowie who took credit for writing David Bowie’s music and was integral to the plot line for about the past 10 years. Doc’s statement that “some 14-year-old next year is going to find out about David Bowie, and his world is going to change just like ours did” fills me with hope. Because he’s right. David Bowie will live on, even if David Jones is dead.
Which leads me to want to clarify an earlier statement. A friend disputed my statement in my previous post that you’ve got to be in your 20s before getting into Bowie. He’s right, of course. I think I just mean to imply that you need some kind of life experience or to be in a place where you’re figuring out how you FIT into the world for Bowie to really resonate. And of course, if you GREW UP in the 70s, when Bowie was king, that’s a whole other story, too. I’m approaching it from the perspective of someone who was born in 1980 and had the “Fashion” version of Bowie in his formative years. I think Bowie’s one of those artists you need to find a way to contextualize, not just tap your toe to. In my case, I wasn’t ready to do that until my 20s. The 14-year-old kid Doc mentioned might be ready before I was…and God bless him.
And at the same time, is that even true? I was playing around with the mixing desk toy when I was 10. I watched “A Concert for Life” as it aired on April 20, 1992 and I remember thinking Bowie was cool in his green suit, reuniting Mott the Hoople and singing “Under Pressure” with Annie Lennox. I have stated several times (probably even on the blog) that the only reason I know the Lord’s Prayer is because Bowie dropped to one knee during that performance and prayed it for a global audience. I don’t know who Bowie was as a religious person–no one other than Iman can probably claim to…but I do know that I mark that as a significant moment in my own spiritual journey. That Bowie helped lead me closer to God in the most unlikely ways…
Bowie he led me closer to great music too. I already loved Queen long before I knew he was the other voice on “Under Pressure.” (Actually now that I think of it, it’s possible that I haven’t felt this wounded by a celebrity death SINCE Freddie Mercury…) But Bowie was a conduit to other music. He opened my ears to a lot. If there were no David Bowie in my life, there would be no Lou Reed. (I thought “White Light/White Heat” was a Bowie song for probably 10 years.) I would have no idea who Klaus Nomi was. I probably never would’ve gotten into Iggy Pop. I never would’ve thought to explore the Pixies if he hadn’t covered “Cactus” on the “Heathen” record. I even would’ve missed Arcade Fire if Bowie hadn’t listed “Funeral” as one of his top albums of the year when it came out.
And I’d have missed out on some great other stuff, too. I only saw Zoolander because I’d heard Bowie was in it. And the Prestige. (And of course Labyrinth, which is a whole other thing.) Hell, when Elrond first shows up in Lord of the Rings, I thought Hugo Weaving was Bowie–and I’ve been a fan of Weaving’s ever since. (Shallow, but so what?) I’ve also bought books just because he’s mentioned them (most notably “Hawksmoor” by Peter Ackroyd.) Bowie’s impact on my life was so huge that even the color of the walls in my bathroom is a result of his work.
I can’t think of an area of my world Bowie hasn’t touched. When people occasionally ask about “celebrity crushes” or who’s on your list of 5 celebrities you’d sleep with, I usually cut them off before they’ve got the question out by saying, “David Bowie. I’d let him do anything to me.” And that’s silly and I’m mostly joking…but it’s even devastating to know I can’t say THAT anymore.
But…even so, I know Bowie’s impact on my life is far from over. It’s with some embarrassment that I don’t own the whole discography yet. So that mission will go on. And there will be some rarely heard song on some album that I’ll fall in love with and wonder what I did without it before now. And there will be new listens of old tracks I hadn’t thought much about that will make me wonder how I missed their impact. And there will be relistens of old favorites that make me think “I remember where I was when…” for the rest of my life. And not even death can take that away from me.
I said it last time, but I’m going to say it again. David Bowie made my life better. He CONTINUES to make my life better. I know that the next time I can’t see a way out of the sad mood I’m in, I’m going to listen to a Bowie record to fit my mood (probably “Hours” or “Heathen” or “Ziggy…”) and it will remind me that there’s beauty in there among the dark tones. “Blackstar” has been in my life less than a week, and it’s probably going to be on that list, too. It really is a sadly beautiful record–I hadn’t yet gotten around to using the word “masterpiece” before Bowie died, but I’m going to go ahead and use it now.
Bowie is no longer here…but he’ll always be there.
I was talking about Bowie with my brother last night and he said something I liked. He said he’s not even sure Bowie died–he’s just in space. Like we’re going to land on some planet sometime in the future and he’ll just BE there. “Hello. I’m Bowie. You’ve got five years, by the way…”
I cannot begin to thank Bowie enough for what he’s meant in my life. I can’t even begin to describe it, despite how many posts I might write. (And I promise I won’t keep harping on it, for those who want to read my usual nonsense.) There’s something absolutely indescribable about being a Bowie fan. That’s why it hurt EVERYBODY to hear he’d died. Even the most casual of fan felt the loss. Maybe not as deeply, but they did. Someone said to me yesterday that she was never a big Bowie fan, but she was still sad. “I mean I’ve heard stuff like Space Oddity, Heroes, Changes, Ziggy Stardust, Under Pressure, Suffragette City…” I stopped her there… Who’s not a fan??? She rattled off a half-dozen song titles without thinking. You ask me to name more than three Adele songs and I can’t do it. Bowie transcended being a “fan.” He was an icon. He still is. He always will be.
I can only think of one way to end this post… (I really hope this video doesn’t point to something weird in the future…)
Thanks again, Bowie. I am nowhere near done saying that.