Monday, January 18, 2016

David Bowie's Gone and We're Still Here (1947-2016)

Good morning!

Well, it's been a tough 2016 already, friends. 

Last Monday morning around six in the AM,  I was feeling a little under the weather and struggling to get my act together enough to get out the door to work at the correct time. As my fingers were forgetting how to lace my boots from sleep deprivation, Matthew came in from making the coffee and sat down on the bed with his serious face, which definitely is atypical for him at any time, much less at this ungodly hour.

"Listen, I need to tell you something and it's gonna be ok, but I wanted you to know before anybody else did."

Me internally: What is he even talking about did I sleep walk and knock over the tv or something? Is he mad at me? What is he talking about? Me outloud:"Yeah, fine, what is it, bibi."

"David Bowie died."

I replied almost nastily, looking at him like he'd hit me full in the face: "No....he's not....what are you talking about?!?"

"I mean, it was on Kotaku this morning, so it may...not be true....I don't know I just wanted to tell you before you saw it at work or whatever."

My hands started shaking as I reached for my phone. "He put out a record on Friday."

I googled "David Bowie" which immediately suggested "David Bowie dead" and as several reputable news sources came up on the browser, I literally burst into tears.

Now, something you should know about me-- I do not burst into tears in my own life for almost anything. While I cry to beat the band when Barbara Stanwyck gets her heart broken on screen or Hank Williams sings about dreaming about Mama last night or someone saves a baby on an old episode of Greys Anatomy, I'm not a big crier in terms of my own life. I'm usually too stressed or too focused on how to fix things to cry in real life over my day-to-day even when it's merited. So I think I was fairly as shocked as Matthew was that tears were streaming down my face as I just laid back down in my bed.

"I'm so sorry, little bean."

"EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HORRIBLE?" I said, almost laughing through my tears about the comically bad run of days I'd had in the last week. My best friend's going through a serious crisis, I'm sick as a dog, my job/commute/workplace is killing me, I need to lose about thirty pounds, when are we going to have a baby, I MUST stop drinking so much, I hate everything....and David Bowie is dead.


As the information fell into place, I realized the album release was Bowie's last, greatest publicity stunt, as cannily planned as any other in his fifty four years in the industry. Who ELSE would hide an eighteen month, reportedly ferocious battle with cancer behind a frenzy of professional activity, from the aforementioned record with accompanying short-film-style music videos to a Broadway play featuring a Bowie penned score. Before doing the real-world equivalent of disappearing behind a magician's cape, he made sure the two singles from what was to be his final record were rife with imagery related to his passing, which of course, his faithful audience, myself included, just took as regular Bowie subject material. I had listened to "Blackstar" in December and "Lazarus" on the 8th with a "Not bad, sir!" feeling of Outside meets Heathen, totally missing lines like "Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside", "Just like that bluebird, I'll be free/ Ain't that just like me?", "Look up here/I'm in heaven" that would become achingly prescient. I hate how good this last record is, only because it stands as a stark reminder of how much I'm going to miss the man.

My love affair with David Bowie began in 1998, when, as doofy thirteen year old already having passed through a few years of voracious reading and album consumption regarding the Beatles, I picked up a copy of Viktor Bokris's Andy Warhol biography, hoping to garner some info on his friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Bowie was mentioned several times, and when I saw a cd single (!!) of "I'm Afraid of Americans" in the music department of Kmart (where my mom had parked me sometime earlier as she ran around looking for household items), I loved the weird, simple line drawing on the cover. "Are you sure you want this? It's $10," my mom tutted, as this was at least twice as expensive as any of the other singles in the bin. "YES," I said, emphatically, not knowing 'd taken the first step on the biggest musical obsession of my life.

You can imagine how my mom probably was into the hanging guy in the tree/possible lynch vicitm on the cover of the album her thirteen year old was asking for her to buy...
A listen or ten later, "Pretty good," I thought. A little more modern of a sound than I was used to, but something about it piqued my interest. The next time I was at Phonoluxe, a record store on Nolensville Road where I'd been slowly collecting Beatles albums over the last year and a half as my allowance allowed, I wandered over to the regular rock n roll bins (separate from the collectors/mint record bins) and flipped through a different section of the B's than I usually perused. Based on covers alone, I picked up Space Oddity and Fame and Fashion: David Bowie's All Time Greatest Hits. At the library, there was a single copy of Stardust: The David Bowie Story by Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta that I dutifully checked out.

It all started here, kids
Aaaaand I was hooked. Hooked, hooked, hooked. The heady combination of book smarts, glamour, good looks, boundary pushing, and GREAT. MUSIC. was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I reread Stardust several times, taking copious notes of records to look for and important acquaintances like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop to research. Photocopied the photo inserts at the Madison branch library on an old, finicky xerox to make legal paper size homemade posters of Bowie in various stages of his career, learning to use to zoom and contrast features on the machine like a pro. I had just recently made friends with a girl the year ahead of me in my related arts class, and gave her a mixtape I think in return for her letting me borrow her copy of The Stand. In the way only pre-internet, too-smart pre-teens would have the time and energy for, Kelsey and I both launched headlong into a shared obsession and a friendship that's been going strong for eighteen years. For the all-important next five years, finishing out middle school and continuing on into high school, we lived and breathed David Bowie. There were so many books to read and movies to see and, all importantly, records to fall into. A millennial resurgence in 70s nostalgia served our analog curating tastes well, as there was lots of stuff on VH1 and late night tv to consume and digest. "David Bowie's the musical guest on this late night rerun of Saturday Night Live, I'm gonna set my VCR!" "Someone with the premium cable channels taped a copy of Ziggy Stardust the movie for me, we have to watch it!" I can remember sitting on the carpet in front of the turntable in the upstairs living room of my parents' suburban house, listening to Lodger and trying to figure out what in seven hells was going on. Who sounds like this? WHAT sounds like this? Flat on my stomach with my heels kicked together in the air, a copy of the liner notes spread out in front of me and a spiral notebook. "Brian Eno?" in ballpoint pen next to a few lines from "Fantastic Voyage". He wasn't just something I listened to, he was a huge part of who I was....and to my hopeful teenage heart, what I could be.

Two idols, one picture
In the midst of mourning last week, I pulled out as many Bowie records as I could from my collection to re-arrange them in chronological order and just flip through them for old time's sake. Look at this body of work just spread out on my living room floor, an embarrassment of riches:

The only one missing is Never Let Me Down....that is not uninentional...
And that's not even all of them! And doesn't count books/buttons/whatever else I could scrape up Bowie-related. Since 1998, I've been a Bowie devotee. Years of checking the record bins on every trip to Great Escape or Phonoluxe yielded the pile of albums you see above. And EVERY record reminds me of a different time in my life-- I could tell you when I bought most of them or who this or that song reminds me of. While Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane are two of his best albums, it was really Diamond Dogs that first introduced me to my favorite "form" of Bowie, the soul chanteur receiving transmissions from another planet. Dark, dangerous, gorgeous decadence. Diamond Dogs and the Eno trilogy are records I can listen to front to back, on repeat, forever. They're a major part of the fabric of what I would call "my musical taste". And isn't my life richer for that!

This Man Who Sold the World poster and the Space Oddity album cover poster used to hang on my bedroom wall in high school-- both of them came with copies of the album.
My love of David Bowie sustained me through dozens of other musical interests-- he was a gateway drug to the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Television, William S. Burroughs...probably ones I can't even think of off the top of my head. I wouldn't think about him every day anymore, but any time anyone mentioned him, I thought, "There's my guy." When I was feeling bad, it was nice to pop in Low or Stage and just sit down with an old friend.

What I can't believe with this whole last week is how I'm actually grieving this loss. I never met the man. I don't know if it's being in a kind of adult crossroads here at 30 after the can't-wait-to-grow-up-ness of my teens and the just-spinning-your-wheels-trying-to-keep-moving feeling my 20's that is working as an emotional accelerant, but something is making this break my heart about a hundred times worse than if it was anybody else. It must have been similar for people in our parents' generation to lose Elvis or John Lennon-- not to co-opt those tragedies, each of them died far younger than David Bowie; but in terms of the impact he made in my life, he was, like Lennon and Elvis to that age group, the soundtrack to my life.

Earlier this week, trying to explain how upset I was to a friend, I legit started crying again realizing he was "there" for me. Growing up with parents that loved me but didn't always much understand me, here was something and someone I could pin all my hopes for a glittering future to. There are people out there who are like this, I told myself. Look at how big and outrageous and gorgeous and dramatic and grand the world can be. A little less so for loss of him, but I can't put into words well enough how much having that to hold on to meant to me then as it does now. Can you even imagine how it must feel to have had that much of an impact on one person, much less the legions of fans who are going through the same deep sorrow to lesser and greater degrees all over the world? I hope he knew how much he meant to everybody, not just as the "style chameleon" interviewers and journalists like to lean on as shorthand for his career and influence, but as a truly original and immensely talented artist.

So safe travels, Starman. I'm still too sad, I can't lie, but this tweet helps:



Anyway! I've been angry (Tarantino) and I've been sad (David Bowie) so far this year, hopefully I'll come back with some good news next time I update this spot! :) Lots of light to all of you, 'til next time.


  1. this year has been such a bummer so far. i was never as into Bowie as you, but I always loved him and felt a real loss at his passing. since then i have only been listening to the "i am bowie" playlist on spotify and every time Heroes comes on I start to cry. He was a beacon of hope to all us weirdos out there. the world is a sadder place without him.

  2. good writing my dear, and so spot on, and your devotion and love for Bowie is very clear...
    I love the tweet as well, we were very lucky to have lived on this earth with Bowie...
    and You.. thank you

    1. Thank you for your kind words! Still sad about his passing, but like I said, grateful to have had his guiding influence on my life.

  3. I really meant to comment on this when you first posted it, but well, it was a rough week... I 'met' Bowie at all the wrong times in my life, though whenever I did, it was a fond moment. Your love for him breathes through every word in this post, and I'm so glad to have read it. Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and personal tribute.



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