Oh, my god.
I haven’t even begun to process the idea that David Bowie isn’t on earth any more. I know at some point, quite soon, I’m going to let myself access the twelve-year-old, fourteen-year-old, fifteen-year-old, twenty-year-old who are persistently bubbling to the surface to gasp in the first part of a sob of grief and bereavement, and whom I am, with detestable middle-aged callousness, repressing harshly. Until those girls and I have a serious meltdown, the news will not have reverberated through all the planes of my being.
David Bowie meant a great deal to my past selves; I needn’t elaborate too floridly on this, since he meant a great deal to much of my generation, and to generations on both sides of me, and they know what I mean. He represented Something. He reassured us that not only was it alright to be an alien, a misfit, a weirdo: it could be beautiful. It could be transcendent. It could blow our minds.
It does impress me how wide-ranging the grief is: people of all ages, all political persuasions, all walks of life are affected. If the world is not universally saddened by the departure of so brilliant an artist, then at least there the grief is represented on all social strata. In part, it’s because his work was so wide-ranging. While he pretty much lost my absolute devotion with Let’s Dance, which came out in my late teens and felt like a solid betrayal of my very-musically-opinionated self (especially after the astonishing bullseye sting of Scary Monsters), I never lost my admiration for him as an artist. He redeemed himself and lost me again with rhythm for the next thirty years, but he was always kind of on my radar, always doing something interesting and innovative.
Through David Bowie, I heard of Iggy Pop, who saved my life, mentally if not physically (and I do not rule that out) by being an aggressively unrepentant weirdo.
Now, to be honest, I always wanted to fuck Iggy Pop. I literally dreamed of fucking Iggy Pop (and in my dreams, I insisted he use a condom, because when I was thirteen I was still health-conscious). I wanted Iggy with a deep, gut-wrenching desire. Iggy was real.
I don’t believe I ever really dreamed of fucking David Bowie, literally or otherwise, any more than I would dream of fucking Apollo. He was too rarefied, too symbolic. I couldn’t access the realness of him enough to think of him carnally, and I didn’t want to. I loved that he presented as an intensely honest chameleon, a cipher, that whatever lay at his core expressed itself in costumes rather than in sincerity. It made him more than human.
I’m sure I had dreams; I probably dreamed of his collaboration on an album, of long talks with him, of at least meeting him on something of an equal footing. I would very much have liked to see him in concert, which I never did, except as Iggy’s keyboardist in 1977, a memorable event. I wish at least that I had had better glasses, so I could have seen either of them clearly.
Yet I’m not really devastated I never met him. He still seems more like a phenomenon to me than a person.
In recent years he was kind of like an old friend on Facebook. We were both busy. I didn’t have time to keep up with his shenanigans. I didn’t necessarily follow his music; I had drifted off into weird channels with my harp and Celtic traditional music, and as always, my leisure time and headspace were limited.
(I loved Outside. I just read that he and Brian Eno think it “fell through the cracks,” and I can’t imagine why that happened. It was brilliant.)
I was glad to see him (looking oh, so old!) as Tesla in The Prestige. I was glad to hear his stuff on the music feed at my work.
We listened to the Bowie station all day on his 69th birthday, when none of us knew what was coming. The morning of the day his death was announced I woke up with “Uncle Arthur” going through my head, apropos of nothing. I live on the left coast; I heard late at night. I didn’t sleep well. I didn’t cry. My soul kind of hovered over my body, not dipping its toes in the inevitable quagmire.
The next morning at work, we all had a quick debriefing. We had all been thinking of Bowie lately. Cue Twilight Zone theme. Had we all sensed the disturbance in the force?
Or was it that, really, we all thought of David frequently: that he was integral to our operating systems, that his names and faces were so ubiquitous that it was only the shock of his passing that made us aware that he was in our minds?
I had to leave the conversation. My coworkers were kind enough to me to leave the Bowie station mute “just for one day.”
Why? The truth: I have to get through the day at work. I cry easily; I cry every time a nature show insists on showing me starving orphan penguins. I cry every time I remember seeing an oil-soaked otter rubbing its eyes, when I remember my Mom, hen I see a sad movie. I’m a fucking waterworks. I’m tearing up now, writing about it.
Turning it off is not so easy, and it has physical repercussions: headache, sore eyes, stuffed nose, swollen eyelids. I just lost a close friend a couple weeks ago; I haven’t finished crying about him. The world is not mourning him, though he was a jewel among hobbits, and the only reason the world is not shattered by his death is that he wasn’t famous. I’m going to miss him, and his potential, forever.
Then David Bowie. Now Alan Rickman. I don’t know how to get over it; eventually bereavement is digested, transmuted, added to the operating system. It doesn’t go away, but it does become assimilated. Our losses adorn our personalities like jewelry made of bone,more or less beautiful or hideous, depending on how we processed each bereavement, each trauma.
When I am ready, I will put on Diamond Dogs. If I can, I will put on the vinyl album I had a young teenager, the replacement for the one I actually wore out. I will open the gatefold; I will slip the disc from its paper sleeve. The smell of vinyl and paper alone, notwithstanding the mustiness of gathered years, will be like a time machine.
(I didn’t discover Bowie in real time; I was a little younger. Bowie was about to come out with Young Americans when he came on my viewscreen; if I hadn’t been quite so young he probably would have lost young prepunk me with that album, but somehow it was the demigod Bowie at the time, and… and it was really good. “Fame” was a pretty amazing number, whether you were a prepunk or not.
…I will put on Diamond Dogs. I will flash back, as I always do, to snow days home from school in my parents’ cold living room during the energy crunch of the 70’s, the livingroom where I smoked cigarettes, read Heavy Metal magazine, painted watercolor pictures (with the hope of one day publishing a graphic novella in Heavy Metal), made up stories.
I think it will take about five seconds, when I let it. I will crack and I will cry until I can’t fucking see the next day, because not only is the world deprived of David Bowie, but another part of my youth, a big one, died with him.