It’s been a long time since the death of a public figure has affected me — has affected so many people — so deeply. It’s a testament to how many different people he reached and connected with at different points in his career.
I learned about David Bowie’s death this morning, and it colored my interactions all day. The piddly shit I was going to post to Twitter about ratting out the double-parked truck or complaining about the weather suddenly seemed unimportant. I learned that his final album, released late last week on his 69th birthday, was planned as a final gift for his fans.
Knowing one has 18 months to live, then getting that last bit of creative stuff out and polished and released — it’s an entirely appropriate finale to an already full and creative life.
I’ve been reading tributes online as I had the time — I was at work, after all, and on a deadline, so personal time was limited — and I think everything that needs saying has already been said by someone.
So here’s the stuff only I can say.
I first learned about David Bowie when I saw the movie Labyrinth as a kid. I think that’s the case for many of my peers, honestly. Then I learned that he was a rock star — but, being in the fifth grade, I wasn’t really into seeking out new music yet. I learned to recognize his songs when I heard them played on the radio, though. He had a very distinctive sound, for all his reimaginings and reinventions of his style and persona.
I remember being in my Senior year of high school, out of town at a two-day Honors Band gig, spending the night with a host family. We girls — the daughter, who was also a high school age clarinet player, and the three girls she was hosting — listened to tapes while we talked about whatever it is four teenaged strangers talk about. I’m not sure if we were listening to Changesbowie or what, but I have memories of listening to Fame ’90 and China Girl, specifically, coming out of that little boom box on the carpet.
While I was in college, I went through a vinyl phase (i.e. records were cheap at garage sales and I was short on cash), and there was a month or two when Ziggy Stardust didn’t leave my turntable.
I especially remember, shortly after college, Heathen came out. Aaron and I had recently moved in together and bought a new car with a CD player, and I recall we made a backup copy of our CD to play in the car. As with many CDs that end up in the car, it didn’t leave for quite some time. Being Pixies fans, we were especially interested in his cover of Cactus.
When Reality came out the next year, in 2003, it may have spent even longer in the car, being that I can look at the track listing and tick off all the songs: yep, loved that one; yep, that one, too; yep; yep; yep.
Honestly, I need to revisit quite a bit of Bowie’s discography. There’s so much output over the years, the decades, so much good stuff that I could spend the next year just listening to Bowie and probably not get bored of it. I mean, Jesus, look at that discography.
I just have so much respect for a man who felt no compunction about reinventing himself; being an intentional oddity; changing styles; but consistently putting out good, solid music, no matter what the current flavor.
How many artists successfully “burn out” at age 69 instead of fading away?
Edited to Add:
Embarrassing admission: I am of the generation that hears the opening riff of Under Pressure and immediately thinks Ice Ice Baby. Unlike many, though, I’m never disappointed when the song actually turns out to be Under Pressure.
Also, how could I forget about listening to Thursday’s Child from ‘Hours…’? The album came out while I was still in college, and I don’t remember listening to the album in its entirety, but I do recall listening to that single on repeat incessantly for some time.