On David Bowie, Life, and Art

David would have been seventy on Tuesday. And in the wake of new music videos, he’s been on my mind heavily in the last week. Which is where he belongs. In our minds. In our hearts. His words on the tips of our tongues. Because that’s what an icon is. Someone who sort of enters you and never leaves. Someone you miss when they’re not with us anymore. But we have his work to cling to. Like a life preserver in an uncertain world. Especially now. It was almost as if his death was an omen for the year(s) to come. God, we had a lot of fallen heroes in the months that followed. And the few that preceded it. It hardened us. Their art was what made us examine things. Bowie being the major example of this. Because of who he was. Because of what he did. And that’s why he’s on my mind. Because that’s where men and women like him stay. Always on the edges of our society’s fabric. But still a part of it.

Being a member of Gen Y, I never knew a time before him. And I’m privileged to be in that boat. But when I was young, all I had a concept of was that he was a singer. Which isn’t true, but it hardly explains who he is–was. Bowie embraced himself. Even when he may well not have had a clue who in the actual hell that person was. Like any other creative, he went through phases and moods and periods of time that he was one way, sharply contrasted with quick changes to another iteration of himself. And what a beautiful self it was. He was multi-faceted. Sometimes an enigma. Sometimes such an open book that it made people slightly uncomfortable. He never hid who he was. He never felt shame for a facet of himself. And there’s nothing more beautiful than that. That isn’t to say it wasn’t hard. It was probably hard as hell. Like it is for anyone who contains multitudes, so to speak. I think a lot can be learned from that, though. Without knowing who you are, you can’t do anything with all of yourself. Compartmentalizing makes you separate your life from your work. And that isn’t good for any of us. Understanding and embracing every element of yourself is an important part of being a human being. Doubly so if you’re an artist of any sort.

Bowie was the kind of man who just made us better. He made the world better. He made me a better writer. He made us all better human beings. He led by example. A perpetual chameleon. Each version more beautiful than the last. But he didn’t do this to please people. Nor did he do it for any other kind of gain that might be a result. He did it because he had to. He had to do it. To keep from going mad. But maybe it was that that made him who he was. He was never stagnant. He was always real. He was everything that anyone in any branch of the arts can wish to be. The kind of man whose art is so pure that it’s above reproach. Even the worst of his albums are better than the best of most. Many dislike his debut eponymous album. While it’s different, to be sure, there’s nothing bad about it. Storytelling lyricism, matched with poppy punchy instrumentals. My favorite of the songs being Please Mr. Gravedigger. And that’s something that gives me hope. I’m not comparing myself to him by any means. But valuing your own work, for better or worse, is the first step to other people seeing the value in it. If you get past yourself and let the art flow, everything that comes of it will be honest. Which is what really matters in the end.

It took me a year to be able to write this. But here it goes. Goodbye, Starman. Goodbye, Ziggy. Goodbye, Thin White Duke. Goodbye, Major Tom. Goodbye, Aladdin Sane. Goodbye, Picasso of Pop. Goodbye, Goblin King. Goodbye, David Robert Jones. But this isn’t an occasion to be down. That isn’t what The Man Who Fell to Earth would want. There will always be a Starman. And I think all of our lives are a little bit richer for having him in it in any capacity. Goodbye, and thank you for everything you are and were.

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