I’m still walking around stunned by the news of David Bowie’s death. I haven’t been able to fully process it. I’ve tried to write something for days, as shock and sadness propelled me into a bout of insomnia. Words left me. I couldn’t even attempt to put a sentence together. Denial is beginning to turn into anger. On Sunday night, while holding my phone, I pleaded with my daughter to tell me that the news was a lie before bursting into tears as she hugged me because she knew. Bowie has been in her life more than the Beatles or Bob Dylan, less than the Clash and the Kinks. But she just knew. Also, I cry over everything. It’s one thing I know how to do well.
I’m certainly not the only person on earth who felt passionately about Bowie. I’ve seen it all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds. People far more articulate then I have said wonderful things and described their feelings better than I ever will, since feeling words are not my forte.
It seems silly to write anything at all, really, but it’s all I know how to do.
My intention this week was to finish my 2015 best album list, which is late and it’s irritating me for being late but life keeps interfering with my ability to finish it. I was also intending to write a review of Blackstar this upcoming weekend after absorbing it over the weekend. That will still come someday, maybe. My heart is till too broken to think straight.
My copy of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars‘s sleeve is leaning against my record shelf, spinning on the turntable. It has played many times since I have bought a new turntable, and it has played constantly since Monday. Ziggy is one of the most important albums ever created. At work, where portability in music is a must, my iPod’s Bowie playlist was on repeat- there is nothing like hearing “Diamond Dogs” and “Young Americans” during your workday when you need it. Someone asked about my subdued demeanor and I passed it off as exhaustion. Not a lie, because I am. I have barely slept the last few nights after all. But even now, I hold my relationship with Bowie close to my heart and I want to refuse to share it with anyone there, in a place where I try to keep things completely superficial.
I know David Bowie saved my life. I know he saved many lives. He was cool, but he spoke to and for the terminally uncool. He nurtured our oddness, our otherness, our hidden selves. He was beautiful in the seventies, suave in the eighties, grand old man in the nineties, elder statesman in the oughties, and then the last two records- genius coming home to remind us all how it should be done. Over a nearly fifty year career, he did it all.
I understood why he stepped back after 2003. He had a very young daughter, he settled down and settled in. He was dad, quietly living his life after his heart attack, being the family man he never thought he was going to be. His silence was deafening. I missed him in my life without realizing. The occasional pop up, like with Arcade Fire to sing Wake Up, is sometimes all it took to make my heart surge. Fans sometimes are incredibly selfish with their idols. The relationship we have with them is our primary concern for much of time together. I took what I could get because I needed him to tell me everything was going to be okay. He’s been telling me that for my entire life, even before I realized it consciously. I was one of his horde of the lost and profane.
By the very nature of the year of my birth, I got to play discoverer, an archeologist, or sociologist. I found Bowie out-of-order. I heard “Under Pressure” and “Let’s Dance” first because of the radio. My parents were not Bowie fans by any stretch of the imagination. Bowie’s 80s work is often dismissed as lesser than his 70s work. But his 80s work is full of hidden gems and fantastic hit singles. I love “Absolute Beginners” and “Blue Jean”, and even the Tin Machine records are a curious wonder. But going back and finding Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, the Berlin trilogy, all as a teenager and propelled there by another tragic loss when Kurt Cobain died, was earth shattering. It was hearing “Life on Mars?” for the very first time and believing, knowing, he wrote that song about me. I was, and still am, the girl with the mousy hair watching old movies somewhere in the world. How the hell did he know that? The power of being in the midst of my depression and anxiety (with a healthy dose of eating disorder thrown in because I like to make things difficult for myself), a song like “Rock And Roll Suicide”, with it’s pleading “You’re not alone” that would frequently pull me back from the self destructive edge I walked for so long. I believed him when no one else could reach me. I’ve only ever believed two people in my life when they told me I was wonderful. David Bowie and “Rock and Roll Suicide” was one. The Guy is the other.
The music just speaks so deeply to me. The honesty of “Heroes”, where love is beautiful and destructive. The worry and hope of a new father on “Kooks”. The soul of “Young Americans”. His choice of covers amaze me- his fondness for the Kinks made me love him even more, and it shows in his covers of “Where Have All The Good times Gone” and “Days” (any cover of “Days” is to be loved even if it will never come close to the original, but how do you top that, even if you are David Bowie?). There is funk in “Golden Years”, pop in “Modern Love”, industrial in “I’m Afraid of Americans”. Even at the end, on Blackstar, he never lost his experimental edge, and he brought in Tony Visconti to help craft music using jazz musicians ( another way to my heart). I haven’t listen to the new album since Sunday afternoon. I know what others have said. My denial is still running too deep.
Like all Bowie fans, I have favourites away from the obvious. The odd combination of Anatolian melodic sensibility and reggae makes “Yassassin” a curiosity, but my deep love of the region’s music makes it a constant musical companion. The Eno collaboration “Warszawa”, a sparse tonal suite with next to no singing, is simply beautiful. The first half of “Memory of A Free Festival” has some of his best singing. “The Bewlay Brothers” is a strange song and deliberately so, but I love the fact he wrote random lyrics just to mess with his American fans. While not obscure so much as recent, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” was my favourtie song off of 2013’s The Next Day. The 45 released for Record Store Day 2013 rests in my singles collection, between my mother’s unplayble Herman Hermits singles and my Arcade Fire and Jonsi collectors 45s. It was Bowie paying homage to his rock and roll past, but it was still fresh after all this time.
He played with genre and gender, sax and sex. He would retreat and return. He could write the prettiest pop songs and the most spaced out themes. He drew inspiration sci-fi, film, literature and art, and he did some of those beautifully as well. And he took three generations of misfits and gave them something to admire and emulate.
The world is poorer without him. God, I miss him so much already, and it’s silly to feel that way for someone you never physically met.