Warning. This is going to get maudlin.
I didn’t write about David Bowie on Monday. Not much. I shared some songs with other fans who were grieving. I posted errant comments about this video, that concert, this picture, that memory. But I didn’t write anything. I didn’t even think about writing anything. It was like being caught in a giant wave as a sudden tsunami hits the shore. We didn’t even hear the earthquakes that triggered it, although in retrospect, they were there. We saw them as the normal shaking of the world.
While I didn’t write, I did read what others had to say. And I discovered that David Bowie meant something profound, yet profoundly different, to so many fans. Some remembered hearing him on the radio for the first time. Some shared a love of his 1980s music or his video with Mick Jagger or his duet with Queen. Others, like me, wallowed in the 1970s music that made up the soundtrack of a significant period of our lives. I confess I didn’t suddenly put on an endless Bowie playlist because I listened to those albums fairly recently. I’ve never stopped listening to Bowie.
I came across David Bowie for the first time when I was about 11. I was in my Grandmom’s TV room and we were watching some special or other when this duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie stunned my family into exclamations of alarm. “It’s so weird!” they said. “Those two are so different!” I knew who Bing Crosby was of course — every cartoon made in the 70s involved some crooning chicken based on him or Sinatra, but I asked, “Who’s that?” My older and hipper brother gasped. “You don’t know David Bowie?” I did not. But I was fascinated by the shock and awe he’d managed to induce just by singing a simple Christmas carol. My inner rebel wanted to find out.
But that would wait. I had to get through middle school, try to fit in, wear preppy clothes my mom bought me, buy albums by Billy Joel and Pat Benatar and Queen. Bowie was out there, but I wasn’t there yet. Curious, but not hooked. It was easy then. There wasn’t a time I can recall in my youth that Bowie wasn’t being played on the radio. Fashion was the big song in 1980. Let’s Dance wouldn’t hit until 1983.
In 1983, my parents moved to the east coast from the midwest, and I became an outsider for the first time in my life. I made friends, but when you uproot in your teen years, there’s a weirdness that settles in and never subsides. My new home became familiar but always retained a sense of “other.” Some of the friends I made were different than people I might have befriended in my old school. I started to experiment with my wardrobe. I started to question the nature of permanence.
A boyfriend who knew I liked Bowie gave me three cassettes of his music. Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, and Diamond Dogs. They went into my walkman and the headphones went over my ears, and I disappeared into that music. I walked through the halls of a new high school, through strange kids I’d never known, a ghost in a crowd. I don’t know what alchemy set in, but that music spoke to me and for me. I can’t hear it without experiencing the same sense of freedom that can be felt even in a cage. The freedom of imagination and the joy of self-expression. All that rushes back to me with the strumming of the opening chords of Andy Warhol. Worlds open.
This is where I have to admit that my obsession took a turn for the mentally deranged. I bought a jacket that made me feel like I was dressing like Bowie. I bought albums he recorded prior to The Man Who Sold the World even though the songs were truly spectacularly and weirdly bad. And I listened to them on repeat and can sing them to this day. I bought the VHS of his Blue Jean video because it was twenty minutes long and MTv would only play the three-minute song part. I hunted for the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth because it featured Bowie and his music. I had his poster on my wall like the besotted teenage girl I was.
And then all of this faded. It soaked in and became a part of my DNA. Bowie was never one of those artists I felt a need to promote, so my appreciation for him was mine. Constant but maybe not loud. If you know me at all, you would know that it was a deep and ardent love. But he doesn’t need the advertisement. He is legend.
Last Thursday, I started a 7-day music challenge in which I put up 1 song a day for a week. On Thursday, I happened to mention to someone that Bowie’s birthday was the next day, realizing as I said it that was the kind of thing a freaky stalker would know. The next day, though, it slipped my mind, and so when I chose my song for the day, I missed an opportunity to play his music. I thought, “Tomorrow. I’ll play it tomorrow.” But I didn’t. And on Sunday, I decided to play an Of Montreal song — a band that often reminds me of Bowie in so many ways. I toyed with their cover of Starman, but again, Bowie needs no introductions, so I chose an Of Montreal original. I thought, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll play Bowie.”
In my mind, Bowie would always be there. It would wait. He’ll go on forever. Right?
I did play Bowie on Monday. And in a lovely tribute, so did the entire world.
Farewell, chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and caricature. “Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you.”