I’ve heard a rumor from Ground Control
Oh no, don’t say it’s true
~~ David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes”
It was a bad start to the week. A horrible, no-good, rotten start. The first thing I saw Monday morning when I got online was that David Bowie had died. “Another stupid death hoax,” I thought.
I was wrong.
I couldn’t bring myself to write about it until a few days had passed. Hell, I couldn’t even hear one of his songs without crying...hearing that beautiful voice and knowing that it would never sing again. When a musician I’m particularly fond of dies, I usually do a music marathon as a tribute to them. It’s a wonderful reminder of what they have contributed to the world at large and to me, personally. I couldn’t do that with Bowie. I couldn’t even read all the tributes posted in his honor. I read a few, but they all made me cry, and I knew that I had to step away and distance myself if I didn’t want to just cry my stupid eyes out. Which I did anyway.
Some might wonder how or why I would cry so hard over someone I’ve never met. One of the best explanations I’ve read about that came from a Twitter user named Juliette: “We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.” Well said, Juliette. That is definitely part of it.
For me, it was also that it came as such a shock. It was a total sucker punch for me. I stay fairly current on news about my favorite musicians, and I hadn’t heard one peep about how ill he was. I’d seen a rumor about a possible heart attack and then never heard anything more about it, so I assumed that if he really did have one, he recovered fully. To learn that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer 18 months ago was absolutely a complete surprise. When it came to someone like Johnny Cash, I knew he’d been having a lot of health problems and was seriously ill. While his death hit me hard, it wasn’t the stunner that Bowie’s death was to me. When you aren’t expecting a hit deep to left field, it’s easy to get beaned.
I don’t claim to be the biggest Bowie fan out there. Many are much more familiar with his work and the more obscure tracks. But I have been a fan for many years, probably starting in the early to mid-’70s and continuing to his most recent stuff. I missed a couple of his more recent albums, the ones before his triumphant return with “The Next Day” in 2013, and those are on their way. I got his most recent one, “Blackstar,” on its release day, which also happened to be his 69th birthday. I listened to it that morning and loved its trippiness. I commented to a friend that if I smoked opium, I’d want to listen to the album as I lounged about on my opium couch! I look forward to listening to it in depth.
As I’ve pondered his death over the week, I’ve thought about how fortunate I am to have seen him twice in concert. Once back in the late ‘80s on the Glass Spider tour, and once in the ‘90s on the Sound + Vision tour. Ken and I had talked about going to see him if he toured again, and I’m sorry that Ken will not have that chance.
I’ve also thought about the profound influence he had upon music, culture, and fashion. My beloved Duran Duran claims him as one of their biggest influences and have said that they wouldn’t exist without Bowie. There are so many others who can make the same claim, and you can see them in the excellent graphic included in this post (click to embiggenate). Not every artist can be said to have changed the course of music history, but Bowie is one of them. The potent mix of musical talent, showmanship, art, rebelliousness, style sense...he had it all, and he changed the world. He certainly changed my world.
It is also a reminder of how our time here is limited. I think it’s fair to say that Bowie smoked most of us in terms of accomplishments and significance, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do the best with what talent and time we have. It’s easy to grow complacent and imbue someone like Bowie with almost immortal status. He’s David Bowie! He can’t die! But he can, and he did. And so can we all. The loss of someone so influential, both to the world and to me personally, is hard.
Farewell Ziggy, Aladdin, Thin White Duke, Major Tom. Whatever you called yourself, however you reinvented yourself...you were one of a kind and you were a bright star in our skies, one that will shine forever.