David Bowie passed away today and the tributes to his memory and his art are rushing through and flooding the Internet like a tidal wave.
I still remember the first David Bowie song I ever heard. It was Let’s Dance…a song that is actually incredibly difficult to dance to (if you’re Black). While we had Blondie, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Michael Jackson (of course) and Sting records in our home, we didn’t have any David Bowie. I don’t have fond memories of putting his LP on our record player, but I do distinctly remember the first time I heard Let’s Dance while channel surfing on the radio. There was something very different about that song – and the artist – from everyone else in music for me. It was the sharpness with which David Bowie delivered his lyrics, simultaneously and luxuriously drawing them out and then dropping them with a quick clatter. The guitar rifts and slight Island flair that set the tone of that particular song. And then there was his accent! I was a small child living in the Mid West, and the deliberateness with which he pronounced his words was completely foreign to me. Turned out it was because he was British. We didn’t have too many of them in Columbus, Ohio.
I decided very early that I liked David Bowie.
By the time we got cable TV – and MTV by extension – my conception of what manhood was supposed to look like had been challenged. Between Prince, David Bowie, Boy George and that one dude who sang You spin me right round, right round, like a record baby, round round round round, I became more comfortable with the idea of a man in drag than 21st century society would turn out to prefer. I believe we all did. How else can Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy or the late, great Robin Williams account for their comedic cross-dressing success? I believe any man who gets paid well to dress like a woman owes his kudos to the glam rock legends of the late 70s and 80s, Bowie among them.
He was SO bloody beautiful! Do you remember how you felt when he and Iman announced their marriage? A lot of people found the pairing odd, but it made perfect sense to me. It was only natural that one of the most beautiful men on earth should marry the Earth’s MOST beautiful woman: A goddess. Someone who understood the importance of silk sleeves; and 3 hours to do make up; and the need to secure perfect high heels; and dedication to subtle sexiness. The average woman couldn’t have last 20 minutes in a marriage with David Bowie. Iman shared 24 years with him, only being parted by death. That he died at age 69 – a blush-inducing numerical symbol is strangely fitting. Subversive sexiness!
I can’t get over the shock of David Bowie’s passing. I had no idea he had been sick. In my mind, he was still as vibrant and healthy as he was when I last saw him, which was about 3 weeks ago. I was watching ‘The Labyrinth’, a movie co-starring Jennifer Connelly and one of my favorite childhood flicks. He was in a blond wig and leather chaps, singing , growling and glaring into the camera in all his Bowie-ness. Honestly, I thought he would be immortal… which is silly, given that we all have a scheduled appointment with Death. Still…
There has only been one celebrity death that has shocked me to this degree, and that was the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. He was robbed of his life when he still had so much more to give, planning tours and what not before his light was snuffed out. I suppose David Bowie was more fortunate as he could see his last days looming and was able to plan ahead. He had us – those who appreciated his art and his bold effervescence – in mind even until the moment he took his last breaths. As I understand it, he released an album of 7 songs just this past Friday. Music critics have called it his “parting gift”.
I also wonder if David Bowie had a gauge on how many people he inspired through his music and life. On the outside, his very existence was art itself. From his refusal to conform to cultural norms, to his performances, to the way he challenged the status quo, he was art in motion. Very few of us get to live that way: to live out our convictions, not without fear, but rather with bravery. He was a true global icon, and that’s not something one attains by taking the safe road.
As the tributes come rushing in, we will take note of those made by Madonna, Kanye, Sting and a hoard of other celebrities. But David Bowie meant so much to so many other people. He was precious to 80’s and 90s kids who grew up in remote villages in India, bustling capitals in Africa and the odd 50-something glam rebel in Romania who probably still rocks out to the first ever Bowie album s/he heard to this day.
He was by no means the perfect man (which of us is?), but there is a lot that can be learned from watching his life. Everyone’s life has some value. For me, David Bowie’s life encourages us to be extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to question. Explore new risks. Leave them speechless when you walk into a room and set tongues wagging when you walk out. Live a life that’s worthy to be remembered…and fondly enough to inspire people to forgive your mistakes.
What was the first David Bowie song you ever heard? And better still, do you remember your first reaction when you saw him on TV or on a poster? What a weird way to start the week…