Now that I've waited a few days to get my thoughts together, posting a piece about how much David Bowie meant to me is already a cliché. But I'm doing it anyway.
I was aware of David Bowie as a cultural icon from a young age. I knew about "Space Oddity" and "Let's Dance" and "Rebel Rebel." I watched Labyrinth, although probably when I was too young because I remember being real scared of Bowie's hair and eye makeup, particularly in the ballroom scene. (I had very specific fears as a kid.) But I admit that Wes Anderson is responsible for lighting the Bowie fire in my soul.
Like most artsy and pretentious people of my generation, I got really into The Life Aquatic and the accompanying soundtrack. It featured both Bowie originals and Portuguese covers by Seu Jorge. In true Wes Anderson style, the movie made me really hear the songs as if they were brand new. I was hit particularly hard by "Life on Mars?," thanks to this little brilliant scene:
Surely I had heard the song before, but it seemed like I hadn't. I got the soundtrack and listened to "Life on Mars?" on repeat sometimes so I could really feel that orchestra swell and fading piano outro in my bones.
At some point, I burned The Singles: 1969 to 1993 from a friend and that tided me over for awhile (especially because it included the gems "Oh, You Pretty Things" and "Golden Years"). But I didn't hear a full, beginning-to-end Bowie album until years later when I checked Diamond Dogs out of the local library in Deerfield, NH.
It must have been when I was home recovering from the car crash, at the point of rehabilitation where I wasn't well enough to drive myself places, but I was well enough to be bored out of my mind. I checked it out of the tiny library because it seemed to be the only Bowie CD in the small audio collection. I brought it home and played it on the family stereo and, as Alex would say, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. That SOUND. After the creepy "Future Legend" intro, the way the title track crunched in with guitar made my eyes widen and my heart race:
This was a pretty dark album to start my Bowie education with, but it was a dark time in my life. I loved this spooky glam rock that described a post-apocalyptic world full of wild teenagers and death wishes. Bowie's mournful voice caught me in just the right way, and I appreciated his preference for the dramatic. Like in "We Are the Dead:"
Doesn't that opening feel like it creeps down into your soul, allowing the rest of the song to swell into your whole body? Or something like that? (This is why I'll never be a professional music critic — "Feels like a disease inside you but in a good way!" Ugh.)
So Diamond Dogs was definitely my Bowie foundation for awhile, but it made me seek out more and more Bowie, especially in full album form. I wish I could give you a play-by-play of each other joyful album discovery as it happened, but my memory isn't that good and it's probably best for the length of this post that I don't. I do know that my bestie Andrea introduced me to the glory of Aladdin Sane, my favorite bar had (and hopefully still has!) all of Hunky Dory on the jukebox, and just a couple years ago Lucas bought me The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. All of these are still in top rotation.
Bowie made some goddam ALBUMS. Sure, there were singles, but the albums might as well have been audiobooks. We especially know this now from Blackstar, which speaks so much about the acceptance of where you are in life and looming death. Did you watch the "Lazarus" video yet? Do you want a good cry? Do it:
I reached a new level of obsessive fandom when, a year or so ago, I found myself Googling "david bowie home nyc." I know this makes me sound like a creepy stalker, but I promise I never planned to anything weird, like send him pieces of my hair in the mail or something. I just wanted so badly to pass him on the street one day and think "Holy crap, that was David Bowie!" In my dream fantasy scenario, he'd wink at me and tip his cap and keep walking. And then I would explode.
According to recent-ish reports (2012), he lived next to the Puck Building in Soho, which is a convenient seven-minute walk from my workplace. So of course I sometimes found myself wandering in that direction during lunch breaks, wondering if I'd see him coming out of Dean & Deluca or McNally Jackson. I never saw him, although of course now I can't help wondering if I ever passed him without noticing.
On Tuesday I went for a walk in the direction of his building again, but this time to see the growing memorial outside of his building. I felt justified in knowing my Googling led me to the right building after all, but it was a bittersweet discovery. There were already so many bouquets, photos, and letters — it's surely even bigger by now. I found myself sobbing alongside complete strangers, almost as hard as I cried when I heard the news on Monday morning.
Why do we call cry so hard for people we never really knew? I guess it's because Bowie crept into our souls in different ways, so closely that it felt personal. We MUST have known him if he was so deeply inside our brains and hearts and muscles. Everyone else crying with me in the cold had their own Diamond Dogs moment. We all experienced his music so intimately, even though his actual life — especially the fact that he'd been battling cancer for over a year — was often a mystery.
I have no poignant way to end this, other than with the other cliché that his music will live on. I'm taking a lot of solace this week in combing through all his albums on Spotify and slowly working my way through Chris O'Leary's great song-by-song Bowie blog, Pushing Ahead of the Dame. I also want to re-watch and first-time-watch his movies, including Labyrinth, which I confess I haven't seen in full since I got scared by Bowie's sexy-eyed stares as a kid. There's always something more to discover.
I'll leave you with lyrics from Ziggy Stardust that have often gotten me through rough times, which I'll keep medicating with now: