Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie.
It’s a rare artist who can so completely fill up a day’s worth of social media news feed. It’s a rare artist whose death can so completely fill up my emotional landscape. Right before turning out the bedside lamp last night, my wife told me the news. Thoughts and memories tumbled into dreams and I woke this morning with “The Man Who Sold the World” running relentlessly through my head.
All day, whether through our stereo speakers or just within my own skull, his masterful, eminently original music has been playing non-stop. Sadly, until his death hit me, I had forgotten how much his art meant to me. With a handful of exceptions, it’s been years since I’ve really listened to him. I used his cover of “Cactus” as curtain call music in a play I directed. I tried to show Labyrinth to my step-kids, but the lack of CGI failed to impress. I picked up a copy of Bowie at the Beeb, a compilation of his BBC recordings, some time last year and gave it a couple of listens. But that’s about it.
A day of listening, of mourning, of celebrating the gift of his time here on earth, and the memories come flooding.
In high school, I was never popular. I never quite fit in, and mostly, that’s how I preferred it. While most of my class was listening to Boston, Def Leppard and Motley Crue (umlauts somewhere, whatever), I was in my room blasting cassettes of Ziggy Stardust and Let’s Dance. These recordings opened up a new world to me. A strange, beautiful, dangerous, forbidden and sexy world. Somehow I knew that if not liking the crap on the “rock” radio station that dominated the student parking lot made me an outsider, a weirdo, a freak, then being an outsider/weirdo/freak was a damn good thing to be.
Eventually, there were a handful of us. We wore strange clothes. We grew our hair long (and got beat up for it more than once). We listened to music that wasn’t on the radio. We pushed boundaries and found a world of relevance and authenticity beyond. It was this group of friends, gathered together by artists like Bowie, that led me into art, poetry, political and social activism, and other music beyond the mainstream – blues, folk, and eventually jazz.
Bowie never settled for safe, mainstream, normal, ordinary. In pushing beyond boundaries, he taught us all how to be artists. For that, I honor him, will miss him greatly, and will keep listening. He told us we could be heroes, we believed him, and he was right.