Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen, The King is Dead

David Bowie 1947-2016

My sister texted me at five a.m. yesterday to spare me the unimaginable horror of finding out online, or hearing the awful news in the car on NPR.

David Bowie is dead.

I have been thrown out of balance. My muse of fifteen years is gone. I had no idea how much of an impact he had on the shaping of my identity during those crucial teenage years to mold me into the person I am today until he was gone. Worse, I took his very existence for granted. I knew. I asked myself "What will I do when David Bowie is gone?" but I never thought past that point, the point where I might have to acknowledge that the Plastic Soulman might make his place in the stars permanent. I'm sure it sat at the back of my mind. For years, I have said that one day I'll lose everyone who ever inspired me. I have said, "What will I do the day I discover David Bowie is dead?"

Well now I know. I will tell you what I did the day I discovered David Bowie had died. I went to work, and I did my damndest to do my job, but I have been unusually quiet, and my smile does not reach my eyes. Not a minute goes by that I don't have some lyric of his stuck in my head. This morning it was "Young Americans"; this afternoon it was "China Girl", and a few minutes ago, it was "Thursday's Child". In the car, it was "Beauty and the Beast". 

I found out I don't belong on social media today in any meaningful way. I have been engaged, but nothing of my own, since everything that comes out of my mouth online today has been a tirade of cynical, acidic, hateful statements full of anti-spirituality and anger. Of course it is. The man that helped shape my identity more than anyone else has passed away. I caught myself spewing so much garbage at someone who replied to one of my comments that I haven't really commented on anything all day, not even for work. I can only take a bit of solitude in knowing that so many people understand how I feel. From the greatest thinkers of today to my immediate family, we are all sharing in this loss. The bitter anger in my voice today is from the light of the universe that was snuffed out. Yet one more piece of what was good in this world has been chipped away by time and illness. 

David Bowie was more than a Pop icon; he was more than a fashion pioneer; he was more than a sound-creator and wordsmith. He started a revolution in music; he was the man who spoke for the outsider, the man who shaped the way we think of Pop culture (every Indie band on the planet owes their entire sound to him from Modest Mouse to Arcade Fire), who helped form the Internet as we know it today; he was more than a musician. To be close to David Bowie was to be close to enlightenment. To be close to David Bowie meant stepping outside of what is acceptable and what is normal ("Rebel, Rebel"), and looking to the stars for the next big journey into the unknown ("Space Oddity", "Star Man,"). I did not even get to see Bowie live in concert, and it will forever be one of those things that I was born too late to do. 

David Bowie's influence can be felt across every single media outlet today. I turned on the radio and listened to a little Cage the Elephant, Of Mice and Men, Silversun Pickups, and every time I turned to one of these bands, I heard David Bowie. He was there in every song from every band. No one can escape the sphere of his influence. He was the bright light that radiated unparalleled glory, and we all got to bask in it.

I need not explain to you how I fell in love with David Bowie. I do that here. I was like so many others of my generation that fell in love with him. He was Jareth. He was the rebel man. He made our parents hate him, and he made us love ourselves. 

David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, Labyrinth 1986

I hadn't been able to bring myself to listen to his music, but at last I sat down to a couple songs at lunch--and really there isn't exactly what I'd call a "safe place" to listen to his music without interruption at the moment, so I didn't try. 

His life, his philosophy, is present in every lyric he set to music. I love all of his work (with the possible exception of his minimalist work, but I'm not a minimalist so I wasn't even in his wheelhouse), but what hurts me most is hours--because up until hours, I was just a newcomer, a skinny, awkward kid who could only admire his past works, made all the more awkward from the fact that no one at school had ever heard of him. It was a vintage love affair and, in many ways for a fourteen-year-old with limited musical exposure, his music was inaccessible. And then there was hours. 

My sister and I heard about it in a magazine (I don't remember which), then we started seeing his face on the silver screen, our silver screen, not in music videos that were by then twenty-five years old, but in our living room in 1999. He sang his singles, "Thursdays Child" and "Pretty Things Are Going to Hell", on The Late Show with David Letterman, Saturday Night Live (the host was Jerry Seinfeld, and I still quote those skits), and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. 

The day hours  hit the shelves, our mom took us to Best Buy to get the CD, which she was only too happy to pay for even though she didn't understand it. We rushed into the store, certain the racks would be stripped of the new album. I was so disappointed to see that they were not. The display was nearly untouched except for the two scrawny pre-teens who squealed and giggled all the way to the register only to be regarded by the quintessential pimple-faced teen with a mixture of confusion and pity. We took our treasure home and carved pumpkins while we listened, our parents shaking their heads and wondering where they went wrong.

They did not understand hours, and we thought no one except the two of us did. It was not at all like his previous jazzy rock and roll infusions. It was dark, elegiac, pulsating, airy, dissonant, and exhilarating. Here was David Bowie in the present, the Thin White Duke returned, a bit older, a little the worse for wear, but present.

To our delight, he would not stop there: Reality, Heathen, Nothing's Changed, and now Blackstar, which I finally have the money to download, and which I will listen to in grieved seclusion. You'll get no review from me. Too many have already said what I want to say with far better words than I could conjure. Blackstar was his farewell, and I'd like my experience with his final months of work to be uninterrupted and unspoiled. 

For the rest of eternity, we miserable beings on this spinning blue mote in space must now go through life with the filthy, unnatural feeling of knowing what it's like to live in a world without David Bowie. It's a darker place for us all because he was such a bright light. 

No words can do him justice. If you want to honor him, go listen to his music. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Growing up With David...Bowie that is!

Original Post Date 1/10/2012

My manager at Papouli's, Derrick Hutchinson, was always fond of playing the classic rock station in the morning as we opened the store. Invariably, one would hear a David Bowie song, and then you'd hear me screaming along to the lyrics as I made tea over at the beverage station in the dining room. Usually it was "Young Americans" or "TVC15", or "Suffragette City". Sometimes it was "Rebel Rebel" or "Heroes". Always the same five or six songs on that station anyway. My love for David Bowie has inspired some people to speculate that I was born (1985) 20 years to late to truly appreciate his work. Two days ago, January 8, was the anniversary of the day David Bowie--the king of Glam Rock, the Plastic Soulman, The Thin White Duke--was brought into this unsuspecting world. After nearly fifteen years of David Bowie fandom, it is time for me to give the Thin White Duke his due.

My Introduction to Bowie

I am of an age where the people of my parents' generation were teenagers when David Bowie began recording (well my mom anyway--my dad and David Bowie are the same age). So how does a fourteen-year-old come across Bowie in the late nineties? Well, it was't Earthling, Outside, or Scary Monsters, though that followed quickly. As any teen of my generation did, it was Labyrinth. I first saw Labyrinth in 1991. I was six years old. My little sister had only just been born, and all I could think of was that between David Bowie's teeth and the baby crying, he must be the devil. Years later, when I was fourteen, Labyrinth turned up again, and suddenly I was thrust into the world of Glam Rock, because from that point on if it had David Bowie on it, I had to have it. David Bowie was many things before Jareth, but to me, he will always be Jareth. 

Labyrinth is a huge part of my life.I  still wear my Labyrinth t-shirts and buy new ones when I find them. I've seen every single interview of David Bowie for Labyrinth, and even had a chance to purchase a Labyrinth poster with Toby Froud, Jennifer Connolly and Frank Oz' signatures on it at Horror Con in 2010. And let us not forget how I began my own adventures on Ebay when I was a teenager, buying Labyrinth lunch boxes, lobby cards, eight-by-tens and posters. The lobby cards and eight-by-tens are currently being framed. That's right. I still have them! 

The Labyrinth revival came when I was about sixteen or so, and Hot Topic began running Labyrinth t-shirts, backpacks and pins. And lets not forget the fanfiction! I wrote and read so many Labyrinth fanfictions that their names are now lost to memory. One of my favorites was a story called "Crystal Moon", but the best is a story whose title I can't remember. This girl wrote the accepted and definitive trilogy that was so well inspired by Labyrinth that she self-published it, and held a cover-art contest (the winner of which won the set). She laid out the geography of the Underground, gave Jareth a past, a family and a voice of his own. Her Jareth, like Fred Saberhagen's Dracula, was not a despotic king of goblins, but a misrepresented hero, a man driven to desperate measures during desperate times, who finally made Sarah his queen and raised her to the pedestal that he always thought she deserved. The Underground was one part of a huge fantastic world, bordered by the Eastern Fae and the Western Fae, where Jareth's brothers, Stefan and Oberon, ruled justly and wisely. 

This was the impact that David Bowie had on my generation, and that impact has stayed with me well into adulthood.


 hours came out when I was in eighth grade. My mom took us to Best Buy to get it, then we carved pumpkins for Halloween while we listened to "Thursday's Child" and "Sons of the Silent Age". The build up to hours, for me, was intense. The only person outside of my sister I could talk to about the album was my chemistry teacher, who probably had a bigger crush on Bowie than I did. I distinctly remember watching an episode of SNL where Jerry Seinfeld was the host, and David Bowie performed "Thursday's Child" and "The Pretty Things are Going to Hell". He did the same set for David Letterman the next weekend. I still think that was the funniest episode of SNL I've ever seen.

I do not hear hours mentioned very often. I cannot image why, though, as I feel it was one of his most memorable albums. However, "Something in the Air" and "Thursday's Child" remained largely out of my league, emotionally and intellectually, until I was much older.

hours was haunting and distant, as if there was something always hanging over my head as I listened to it. There are a great many questions asked on hours. If there's nothing to say, nothing in our eyes, then there "must be something in the air," but it is, and remains unclear. "Survive" is full of vague wonderings, "I should have kept you, I should have tried. I should have been a wiser kind of guy..." are all what-ifs, the same with "Dreaming All My Life": "Was she ever here? Was she ever? Was it air she breathed, at the wrong time, on the wrong day?" Perhaps what I lacked in understanding as a kid was that the entire album was a question, an existential question, and an album name like hours, and titles like "Something in the Air" and "Dreaming All My Life" speaks to a question that has an answer, but you can't quite put your finger on it. There is definitely an air of having lost something or losing something. The music video for "Thursday's Child" seems to depict a couple growing apart. David Bowie's character and the woman (his wife apparently) obviously have a disparate age difference, but it is not physical. David Bowie, in the video, feels older than he is. He is peering at himself as a young man next to his young wife, while standing next to him is the same woman, only older. He describes himself, as he stares at himself in the mirror as "All of my life, I've tried so hard, doing the best with what I had. Nothing much happened all the same...Something about me stood apart, a whisper of hope that seemed to fail. Maybe I'm born right out of my time..." He is aware that he is losing what he had, his physical youth, which is poignantly represented as he and his partner kiss hesitantly, and he moves in for another before thinking better of it, like he just realized he was kissing a stranger. His memories of youth clash with his current age, and no wonder the character feels helpless. His mental and physical age vie with an elegiac memory of a past that he can never reclaim.

I relate, perhaps more now than when I was a kid, to those people who say that I was born 20 years to late, "born right out of my time", and that this is something David Bowie and I have in common. In many ways, David Bowie was well before his time, and despite what he said in "Changes" time has changed him, but he never adapted to the times, rather the times have seemed to always be trying to keep up with Bowie. I think this is why hours slows down so much. I once read an interview with Bowie in Rolling Stone where he told the interviewer, "See, you're getting older as you listen to it." The album is fraught with lost dreams, lost relationships and unanswered questions, and I believe that this album is an attempt to answer questions we as people have about the way we move through life, always questioning what we might have done, and wondering who we would be if we had made different decisions in life.

All The Wonderful Places David Has Been

I realized that the Alan Moore introduction to Elric: The Stealer of Souls omnibus is titled "The Return of the Thin White Duke", from "Station to Station" a reference to both David Bowie's return to sanity and Elric's return to popular culture. Elric is David Bowie, as are many other characters in Fantasy fiction. Both were fueled by a sustaining object (for Bowie, cocaine; for Elric, Stormbringer), and both have made tremendous come-backs--Bowie in the 1980s, and Elric in the present, as the novels have been re-released by Ballantine Books and the Prince of Ruins is remade in the Saga of the White Wolf (where Elric speaks in first person). I read today over at Tor.com that Neil Gaiman was adamant that Lucifer from Sandman resemble David Bowie in every respect, "You must draw David Bowie. Find David Bowie, or I'll send you David Bowie. Because if it isn't David Bowie, you're going to have to redo it until it is David Bowie," the author told his artist (Bridget McGovern, "The Cult of Bowie: Cracked Actor, Fictional Character, Supervillain", Tor.com).


It is needless to continue berating the world about Bowie's awesomeness. Its David Bowie week on Tor.com, where the bloggers continue to expound on Bowie's contributions to popular culture.