So I’m wishing my husband’s aunt a happy 81st birthday, and I ask her how she’s doing. Horrible, she says, terrible day! Why? I ask. Because David Bowie died, she says.
That’s what a huge impact one man can have on a planet, when he spends his entire live as a creative force, continually redefining what it means to be an artist. His mourners span all age groups. Some encountered him when he and they were young and gangly, as he found his feet musically in the early albums; 1967’s self-titled David Bowie, ’69’s Space Oddity, and ‘70’s The Man Who Sold the World. But most North Americans remained innocent of his talent until RCA released Hunky Dory in America. Then it all hit the fan.
Now, all we Pretty Things would feel the Changes as we pondered – Is there life on Mars? The StarMan had well and truly arrived.
And so it continued, as we grew to know, but never fully grasp, all of the art and passion one man contained. Like a chameleon he would shed the starman skin to segue into Ziggy, to Aladdin Sane, to be our Pin Up and then our Diamond Dog … changing, mutating, never standing still .. and all the while, pulling yet more hearts and minds behind him. If he could be anything, a hero, if just for a day, didn’t that mean we all could, if we just believed?
That’s why his fan base could only grow and grow. Loving the alien. With each new incarnation, he found more misfits ready to ride along with him, wherever he would take us.
In 2013, Canadian astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield, on board the International Space Station, was honoured to record his own version of “Space Oddity.” On Facebook today, he spoke of hearing of Bowie’s passing, and feeling “an instant feeling of loss and emptiness – and yet also a wistful joy, a sense of how creative and inspirational just one of us can be. His art defined an image of outer space, inner self, and a rapidly changing world for a generation finding themselves at the confluence.”
When I heard the news today, oh boy … yes, it does bring back memories of John Lennon’s assassination … I was stunned. How could the vibrant man who’d just released his 25th album, BlackStar, just two days prior, on his 69th birthday, really be gone? It must be a hoax, I thought. Or a cruel joke. But no, our Thin White Duke had slipped away while we slept, leaving behind cryptic videos. Was this a joke? Would he, like Lazarus, rise again in four days?
We mourned, all of us, and every age of us. In our mind’s eye, we might have seen one iconic image, but our friends, our children, and our parents saw others. He was all that and more …
My cousins and I emailed videos and links to each other all day, an aural blankie to comfort our suddenly fragile self’s. We remembered where we’d been when we heard his music, or the venue we’d breathlessly attended to see his glamour in person. One of my cousins, in Texas, deejay’s at a classical music station; she played Phillip Glass’ production of Bowie and Brian Eno’s symphony “Low” in tribute.
As January 11, 2016 draws to an end, it seems incomprehensible; did anything other than David Bowie dying happen today? I’m sure it did, but for many of us, the world stopped .. if just for a day.
His long time photographer, Jimmy King, took the photo above on David’s birthday, three days ago. It’s a fitting image of a man who seems to have faced his death as he did his life – with open arms and an open heart.
Rest in peace, David.