(This is not a memorial post or an obituary. There are hundreds, thousands of those published by now. This is a personal reflection on what David Bowie meant to me, individually. Your mileage may have varied.)
It took me a while to get my thoughts around David Bowie’s passing. See, he was an unusual important figure in my life–not unusually important, but important in an unusual way. A hero of mine? Maybe a little. A favorite musician? Among several. But his influence and importance did not begin there.
I didn’t relate to Sarah. I related to the Goblin King–strange, outcast, scheming. Always wanting what he cannot have. Desperate for a certain kind of love. And yet, so undefined, so ready to absorb all of our projections onto his character. Vague, but limitless. Dreamlike. Sure, a character created by Terry Jones and Dennis Lee, but brought to life by the man himself.
And when I was older and I had the world of music at my fingertips, it was not his rock ‘n’ roll suicide that captured my attention, it was the words of an artist, plunging deep into my unconscious mind. Don’t think you knew you were in this song, and this is your shadow on my wall, and
Cold winter bleeds on the girders of Babel
This stone boy watching the crawling land
Rings of flesh and the towers of iron
The steaming caves and the rocks and the sand.
But it wasn’t like with other music. It wasn’t like listening to the Flaming Lips or Beck or Weezer or whoever I was into back in the day. It always felt like there was a message there, scraps of messages, maybe, trapped beneath the surface of every verse in every song. Not messages to me, per se, but to the world.
One of my friends once told me they couldn’t “get into” David Bowie because his songs and his lyrics just seemed “so random.” And I get that. I really do. But to me, nothing in any of his work was either random or obtusely deliberate. It seemed, to me, that he always captured the essence of what he was going for…it was just never the thing you expected, or necessarily felt completely comfortable with. It’s easy to write an album of love songs, but it takes passion and guts to write and album about “the Ritual Art-Murder of Baby Grace Blue: A non-linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle,” that “centers on the characters of a dystopian world on the eve of the 21st century.”
If ever there was a modern vessel for the muses, David Bowie was it. Even knowing he was facing death, David Bowie turned his fear and his thoughts into art, and made his death a part of it in a tasteful, impressive way. I cannot think of a more badass–or more comforting–way to leave this world. In many ways, David Bowie’s way of approaching, planning, and experiencing death may be one of the most inspiring things he’s done.
Death and I have an agreement. I do not hate death. I do not fear death. I do not pretend to like it or that I do not grieve when the ones I care about pass away, but I do not blame death for my grief, because grief comes from loving, not from loss. So I am not devastated by David Bowie’s passing, even though he was hugely influential in my inner creative live and during my formative years. Rather, I am happy to celebrate his life, and his acceptance of his own death, by taking up the gifts he gave us–his music, his videos, his films–and letting them remind me of my work and re-fuel me as an artist.
Rest in Peace, David Bowie. The world is better for having known you.