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. 

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