Right. Well, here we are. Somehow we are all still alive and David Bowie is dead. I’m not going to go on and pretend that David Bowie was one of my very favorite musicians, but I did love his music. I spent many hundreds of hours listening to it. So as a person who loves music perhaps more than a casual fan, I consider him whatever that level is below favorites. Having said that, for my husband, he was a Favorite with a capital “F.” The first movie he ever insisted I watch with him at his place was “Labyrinth.” He felt it was too big a cultural gap for me to go on missing it in my life. (He was right. It’s amazing.) Even if in my late teenage years, I felt like acting in a children’s movie could never be as cool as the music Bowie had made and I already loved, it gave me insight into this person who I would later marry.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Bowie’s death today. I’m touched a lot more than I imagined I would be — actually, I never imagined I would be touched because it never occurred to me that he would one day die. So one of the things that makes the pain so sharp is the fact that he continued LIVING right up to the end. His death came as a complete shock — apparently few people knew he was sick. He just released a new album, “Blackstar,” on Friday. What makes the story more heartbreaking to me is that he apparently knew this was the end, and he made the album as a goodbye to his fans/the world. In my mind and having watched people close to me die, I know that sometimes they hold on for something when they know the end is near. I don’t presume to know that he was holding on to release this goodbye album and see what the world thought of his last great work, but it somehow makes it more poignant to me, so that’s my ephemeral thought at the edge of my brain that I’ve now committed to words.
What kind of person keeps on living — really living– right up until the very end? (Someone who was too busy/uninterested to appear and accept accolades, someone who eschewed knighthood because “who cares?”, who refused to tour when he could have done 10 shows an album and charged absolutely any price he wanted to name.) A David Bowie person, apparently. Someone who had courage his entire life — courage to be different, to be sexual in ways that made people uncomfortable, to be pretty, to just be whomever he needed and wanted to be to tell his story. His reinventions made him a new type of artist and a new type of person. And apparently he had the courage to accept (or maybe not accept?) death, which is the scariest, most unknowable mystery. He had been secretly battling death for a year and a half. Now we have to accept that this is apparently how he wanted it — for no one to know until he was gone.
But it’s hard for those of us still here because he invented so much of the culture that we have today. Without him, there is no Madonna. There is no Lady Gaga. And not to compare them to him, because they aren’t the same. They didn’t invent what they are. He invented it. And he did it better than anyone. They say that every artist steals from all of their influences, which on some level is true. But I think what makes someone a REAL dream, a REAL icon is taking those influences and making them something completely, truly yours. 99.9% of people, even people who are professionally paid to be original, can’t do that.
Essentially, I feel like no one this culturally significant has died in my lifetime. It feels like the world should have called off sick today. It feels like one of the Beatles has died. I imagine that this is much how the world felt when John Lennon was murdered (understandably there was a lot more anger to direct at a particular person then so not an exact echo of those feelings, but) — that the entire world stopped breathing for ten long seconds, and that something was gone that we can never get back, someone is gone to whom we can never properly say goodbye.
But he had 28 albums of magic that he gave to us, so you can pretend as long as you want that he is still here.