Crooner, fashion icon, writer, actor, poet, alien. David Bowie’s passing at 69 comes as not only a shock to me but to millions of fans.
I remember being a high school freshman, a friend was driving me home after a particularly rough day. Some guys repeatedly called me ‘faggot’ throughout the afternoon. No reason, they just started calling me that. I didn’t retaliate, I just took the verbal blows ‘like a bitch,’ using their words. Petty high school bullshit, it still hurt though. I’m thankful it only lasted a week.
I was feeling sorry for myself, dejected, nearly crying until I heard on the stereo: ‘Ground control to Major Tom’ amidst an echoing acoustic guitar and a space-age chord providing a drawn out moan. That moment, that song, melted away my sadness and transported my mind to serenity.
I guess you could say he got me through high school, along with The Sex Pistols, The Doors, and The Who.
Being so hard to put into words, Bowie’s legacy looking from the outside in seems like a hundred different lifetimes confusedly rolled into one. His reckless abandon in going against the norm whether it was appearing as the androgynous Ziggy Stardust: challenging the constraints of sexuality and gender roles, as 1980s pop-star performing alongside the likes of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury, or portraying an alien in the now-iconic cult-film The Man Who Fell to Earth; Bowie never faltered from what he wanted his own artistic vision to be.
He challenged the common conventions and never played safe. If you don’t believe me then check out his role in Jim Henson’s odd-ball classic Labyrinth. It’s funny, awkward, creepy…and it’s fantastic.
Not only were his personas rightfully memorable his music was unlike anything we have ever heard before or since. Sure, there are some adequate emulators like Kanye and Gaga but never quite at the level of Bowie. Just listen to the operatic poppy jazz riffs all combined within the classic ‘Young Americans’ or the odd, voice-bending masterpiece single that is ‘Fame.’
If you listen to ‘Suffragette City’ the aggressive chord-play and that angst-ridden, manic chorus was punk at its core years prior to the Sex Pistols, arguably the first punk-rock band, getting together.
Another great quality of Bowie was that he never stopped working in whatever medium caught his fancy. Even at the end of his life he released his latest studio album Blackstar that will surely go down as a work of art. I have yet to give it a listen but most definitely will, peppering the playlist with other classics; reliving the Golden Years of my former (kind of) conflicted, confused, rebellious adolescence.
What Bowie did for so many people like myself was to see the possibility of self-expression, the impact that one voice can have on others if they choose to not be afraid. He took the power of his voice, the flare in his mannerisms, and started a cultural revolution that was constantly reinventing itself. If any of us could live up to a fraction of what he was able to do with his viewpoints, his expression, and his vision, then we could shine brighter than any star Ziggy dared to wander.
On a more personal level, his music did not make me feel like I was a boy sitting in a tin can, far above the earth. He made me feel as if I was connected to a possibility of reaching a point within myself. Where I could connect with others, showing them that oddities are not flaws but qualities. I am sad he is gone but what a life he lived. I wish you Godspeed, Mr. Bowie.