I’ve been wanting to write this for a while, but have struggled to find the right words and apt timing. It’s almost funny, because I started writing it this weekend, post-Blackstar and post-the great man’s 69th birthday. I had intended to finish writing it this morning. But of course, life is never predictable, and David Bowie has passed away, and – like many others I’m sure – I’m struggling to process it.
I think the first time I ever heard of him was when I was a child, with my best friend and I repeatedly viewing that bizarre and wonderful 80s fantasy, Labyrinth. The soundtrack, the aesthetic, the eerie gothic glamour, the questions over whether or not Bowie was stuffing his leggings: I sometimes wonder if the Labyrinth’s nonchalant Goblin King was partly responsible for some kind of sexual awakening in me, but maybe that’s a discussion for another time (possibly with a therapist). Between that and his incomparable narration of Peter and the Wolf, Bowie had made quite an impact with me before I was even 10.
Then I got older and started getting into music and its related magazines, and I remember reading an article about Bowie by Alex Kapranos, I think – about the enigmatic, transformative power of Bowie across his various guises, and how inspiring it had been to him. I found it really interesting – one artist being so seminally creative, and having such a profound impact. There was that quote from ‘Changes‘ at the beginning of what was then my favourite film, The Breakfast Club. There had been Nirvana’s cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ in Unplugged. So when I saw my school library had a copy of Best of Bowie, it seemed a no-brainer to pick it up and take it home to listen.
A few weeks later in an English exam, one of the questions on the paper asked us to write a persuasive piece about a figure from the past whom we considered to be of importance. We were studying Civil Rights at the time in History, so it wasn’t a surprise that most people went for Martin Luther King, and I considered it myself. But, for whatever reason, I ended up writing about Bowie. I was so aware even then that, culturally, he had been one of the most important figures of the past century, and that was what I argued. He didn’t care about race, he didn’t care about “norms” surrounding sexuality, and he created some absolutely astounding music. He had become a hero to me throughout my adolescence, and now in my twenties he remains the same.
He was unapologetic and transcended the normal drudgery of existence with his life of art and that sheer seductive confidence that he seemed to ooze. With each glorious album I went onto explore, he became someone who had just always been part of my life in an almost otherworldly sense – the idea of the spirit of Bowie visiting Bret in Flight of the Conchords to give him life advice seemed hilariously apt, because he didn’t ever seem human. He was always Bowie up in space. And it’s somehow particularly jarring for him to have died – he just sort of seemed eternal, immortal. And it’s so cloying and lame to say that, of course, his music and his impact will be eternal, but it’s not untrue.
And I’m not sure I can put into words how his music makes me feel – just, it elates me like little else can, and at its best it can give me that exquisite, loved-up rush. Every album had something that captivated me, made me think afresh, made me really really appreciate the medium of music.
The build-up to Blackstar had me overwhelmingly excited, and, when it arrived last week, I was breathless. The cathartic, beautiful chants of the opening, title track struck me particularly, and I was captivated by the lyrics pertaining to mortality. Caught up in it all, I texted one of my best friends on Saturday to discuss the idea of a small black star tattoo, because it made perfect sense. I have yet to decide on this front.
For all this pointless essay, I’m not sure if I will appropriately be able to surmise how I feel – how a lot of the world is feeling right now. Bowie was an icon – that shapeshifting South London boy who was a pop star in the truest sense of it all. Fandom is an odd thing, really – that feeling of genuine connection with someone you don’t know is surreal, but it’s also wonderful. David Bowie has soundtracked some of the formative moments of my life, and I won’t be able to thank him for that gift. I have fallen in love to his music, I have cried to his music, I have watched his videos at 4am with friends while discussing the hilarious coked-up excess (and been fascinated by his relationship with Jagger). His loss is a shock and writing this is all I can do, I suppose. So thank you to David Jones and his many, out of this world, strange, strange alter-egos: Major Tom, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, to name a few. Under the ruling guise of David Bowie, you shaped and emboldened so many lives and, I hope – in fact, I know – your oeuvre will continue to do so.
So long to a goddamn hero. The world seems a bit less colourful.
“I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”.