Monday, January 11, 2016

Thoughts on the Passing of David Bowie

Beautiful artwork from the Rolling Stone review of Blackstar
I'm really not the type of person that takes celebrity deaths super hard. Generally speaking, I am comfortable with the idea of death and loss, as I don't necessarily see dying as a horrible thing. It's just another type of very long good-bye. Sad, yes. But unless it was a gruesome, tragic, or grossly premature death, I see it as the most natural thing -- as natural and normal as birth.

Even so, the news of David Bowie's death hit me very hard. I've always known that it would, but I still don't think I was very well prepared for the reality of it. He'd just had a birthday two days prior. We celebrated it by watching the Five Years documentary and his newest music video for "Lazarus". I even remember verbally hoping that he'd be around for another 20 years, because his drive and creativity didn't appear to have diminished at all. Then I heard all about it. That he'd secretly been battling cancer for 18 months and knew he'd be leaving all of us very soon.

From the music video for the single "Blackstar"
It instantly all made a lot of sense. Suddenly deciding to get to work on these very innovative new projects. Writing a Broadway musical based on his work. It just seemed like a lot after a relatively long period of not hearing much from him or about him. He was, of course, getting his affairs in order and working tirelessly to leave us with something very poignant. He timed all of this so that he could say his farewells and exit this world on his own terms. If that isn't Bowie as fuck, I don't know what is -- turning your own death into your very last piece of theater. It makes the whole thing as beautiful as it is sad for the billions of people whose lives he touched.

David Bowie meant an awful lot to me personally. Like a lot of people my age, I was first introduced to Bowie and his music when I saw Labyrinth at 9 or 10 years old. Even then, I was really blown away by his whole presence and his fantastic music. He was the first musician that ever made me what you'd call a fan and like most of his fans can say, I'm sure, his music has been a massive part of the soundtrack of my life. Every major experience, growing pain, or transition in life -- there's been a Bowie song that captured what I was going through perfectly.

Last photo of David Bowie taken two days before his death
Because of Labyrinth, I think the first song I really fell in love with was "Underground". It captured the fantastical way in which I still saw the world as a little girl. It also captured some of the very adult worries and fears I was beginning to have at that age. Other songs would go on to just as accurately capture other major milestones in my life, especially in regards to complicated feelings about myself, my life, and other people that I wouldn't truly understand until much later in life. ("Seven", "Starman", "Strangers When We Meet", "New Killer Star", and "5:15 Angels Are Gone" -- along with many of his better known hits -- are just a few examples.)

If there's one word I would use to describe myself throughout an astonishing portion of my life, it would without a doubt be "lonely". I've never actually been alone in any real sense of the word, as there have always been people around me. However, having people in your life is one thing. Having meaningful connections to people is quite another. But really, anyone that's ever been in such a position themselves doesn't need to be told that sometimes that can be the loneliest state of affairs -- being surrounded by people and not feeling like a single one of them truly understands you or appreciates you for who you are.

Commemorative cartoon from The New Yorker
 Obviously, I have Seth now and I am eternally grateful that God saw fit to give me a person like that to share my life with eventually. But before that, all I had were the musicians, and authors, and artists whose work moved me so much. David Bowie is the only one of those that had existed in that way for me consistently from the time I was a kid as a living, breathing, human being that was still walking the earth sprinkling magic everywhere. (Most of my heroes are dead and have been that way for as long as I can remember.) Since Bowie was alive, I got to spend my life feeling like I was part of the continuing story of his work. I was always eagerly waiting for the next chapter because I knew I'd relate to it so strongly it hurt.

David Bowie taught me that it was OK to be different and that it really didn't matter if the mainstream "understood" what you were trying to do or not. He taught me that art can be this living, breathing, ever-expansive thing and that if you yourself are an artist, you're a special breed. Most importantly of all, David Bowie gave me the experience of having a hero -- someone whose work and presence influenced who I am so deeply, that I know I wouldn't be the same person had they not existed. David Bowie gave me fertile ground at a young age for what I absolutely consider to be the best parts of me. I will always be grateful for everything that he gave us and all that he was. Rest in peace, Thin White Duke.