Talking 'bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York's a go-go, and everything tastes right
-David Bowie, "The Jean Genie"
I was supposed to be productive today. I was supposed to wake up, get to work, and hustle like I usually do. But then the news fell in front of my eyes and the rest of the day fell away.
I found out that David Bowie died at around 10 o'clock this morning. Since then, my insides have ached. As Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker this morning, "This was not supposed to happen. Ever. Because he had been so many people over the course of his grand and immense career, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t continue to be many people—a myriad of folks in a beautiful body who would reflect times to come, times none of us could imagine but that he could. He always got to the unknown first." Like Als, David Bowie was not a person I ever imagined dying. His death was not something a person even thought about. He was just...Bowie. And he always would be.
Yet today I mourn with people the world over the loss of an innovator, a creator, a paragon of talent and reinvention. As many people have written, without Bowie there would be no Madonna, no Lady Gaga, no Prince, and the list goes on. His commitment to curiosity and creation raised pop music to a high art, perhaps in ways that nobody did before or will do after him.
And even in the last 18 months of his life, the time when he knew he had the cancer that would eventually lead to his death, he had created even more lives: with the release just two days ago of his newest album Blackstar and of his off-Broadway musical Lazarus. His death, in the spirit of Als's thoughts, is merely another way he continues to leave us all behind in favor of another, probably better, life.
My first exposure to David Bowie came when I was in high school. I used to hang out at a record store in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida called All Books & Records. It was a big, dusty place, lit by fluorescent lights above and covered in linoleum below. The clerks who worked there taught me about not just artists I should know, but the ways to find them. This was the time before YouTube, when I would log onto the AllMusic.com website and had only 20-second snippets of artists to listen to before I decided whether or not I would go back to the record store the following week and purchase one of their albums.
The first Bowie album I found this way was Aladdin Sane. It was supposed to be one of his better albums, the site said, plus I liked the cover art, this bright, colorless figure with a magenta lightning bolt slashed across his face, metallic liquid pooling in the space between his clavicle and shoulder. I managed, also, to find the gatefold version of the album which, in the vinyl world, is said to be worth more. But putting the needle on the record gave me back whatever the album's "worth" was tenfold.
I sat in my parents' den, sprawled out on the beige carpet while David sang to me from my bright red record player. I stared at David staring at me from inside that gatefold. He was sexy, ethereal, somehow vulnerable yet impenetrable. From the album's opening with those delicious guitar licks, I was hooked and needed more; not just of the album, but of Bowie.
I bought Station to Station on a school trip to New Orleans. It was in a vintage clothing store near Tulane's campus and I couldn't wait to get back to Florida to listen to it. Luckily we were flying that day. I came home and put the record on, listening as Thin White Duke-era Bowie crooned "Golden Years, Golden Years" over and over.
The fellas at the record store gave me The Idiot, the Iggy Pop album produced by David Bowie that's considered the album where Pop went from gnarly gutter punk to refined gutter punk.
Time passed and I found myself with Heroes as well and, later, a 45rpm of Bowie singing its title track in French. Vinyl remains my favorite way to listen to him.
As a sophomore in high school, I watched Labyrinth and was entranced by his Goblin King, a purring evil in oh-so-tight pants. As I write this I can hardly remember the plot of the movie but damned if I don't remember that grey spandex hugging his hips and that burst of champagne-colored hair on his head.
My favorite thing about Bowie was his fearlessness: in dress, in combinations of musical influences, in lifestyle, in presentation, in career choices, in everything. And he appreciated talent and raised others up instead of bringing them down--see the aforementioned Iggy Pop example as well as Bowie's inclusion of a young, then-unknown singer and songwriter named Luther Vandross on his Philadelphia soul-inflected 1975 album Young Americans, among countless others.
And today, when I am supposed to be working on this freelance life, all I can do is listen to his other classic albums: Diamond Dogs, Low, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, among many others. I find myself totally unable to work. To me, David Bowie meant that there was still salvation from bad, corporate pop music and a thoughtless, money-driven art world; that popular music really could be a thoughtful art form; that there was a living example of the power of intelligent yet consumable creativity. While he was alive, those things were guaranteed. Now that he is dead, my fear is that they are not.
While I would never profess to have the Bowie prowess to consider myself a fanatic, I am merely an admirer, a casual fan who knows that we have not just experienced the loss of a man today, but of a creative force and spirit unlike any we may possibly know again. My heart aches, a magenta lightning bolt burning in my chest.
I'll leave you with some of my favorite Bowie songs. What are some of yours? Tell me below, and share your Bowie stories.