Monday, January 11, 2016

Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel...

When I read that David Bowie had died, I felt like I'd lost a friend. And I am not quite sure why.

But I see that I'm in excellent and broad company. Because just about all my friends, regardless of age or what type of music they primarily like, are upset about his death. Everyone is posting Bowie pictures and lyrics.

Somehow, we have all lost our own particular friend. It's really interesting.

The only other celebrity death that has gut-punched me is Robin Williams. But that was different.

I understand being sad about the loss of a great artist. But this is more personal than that, seemingly for each of us.

The tributes are lovely.

I didn't know him, not even by six degrees. The closest I ever got to him was seeing him perform at UNC on his Glass Spider tour. They weren't the songs I knew by heart and loved, or even was just, you know, David Bowie!

When I was in junior high, Debbie, who was a year older and one of my best friends, became obsessed with him. So I did, too. We listened to him almost nonstop when we were together.

She had broader (and better) musical taste than I did. She introduced me to the Ramones. When I was listening exclusively to Top 40 and show tunes.

And then, when I moved to India, she sent me tapes of her Bowie records. Diamond Dogs, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Changesonebowie, Changestwobowie, and, oddly enough, an album on which he sings bizarre little songs like Please Mr. Gravedigger and The Laughing Gnome. I recognized one of the songs as a nursery rhyme when reading Mother Goose to my kids a few years ago.

I hadn't thought of them in ages, but I bet you I could still sing all of those weird ditties.

Even in 7th grade, Debbie knew she was different and embraced it. She wasn't going to be mainstream in the northern Virginia suburbs, even if she tried, so she worked to stand out as different. She was really bright, and eventually went to college at St. John's. It suited her.

I knew I wasn't the norm in junior high but tried so hard to blend. It wasn't necessary in high school, because we were all just who we were. But I wore bucs and rugby shirts at UNC and acquired a southern accent, trying to look and sound like everyone else.

In Delhi I listened to the tapes over and over and over, even though, with the way Debbie recorded them, each side of songs ended well before the side of the tape did, so I'd have to fast-forward to the end and then flip it. And rewind to get to favorite songs to play them incessantly.

If I was listening on my (yellow! waterproof!) Walkman and didn't want to use up the batteries, I'd wind the tape with a pencil.

This seems so laborious and quaintly ridiculous now.

In retrospect, I think Bowie was perfect for us not just because we loved his music, but because he was so many people. Even when he was dressed conservatively, you knew it was a persona. He put them on and took them off.

He got to choose.

He could choose to be whoever he wanted today, tomorrow, whenever.

Who gets to do that?

Maybe this is what made him perfect for so many people. Was that what made it so personal? And, undeniably, brilliance is brilliance, across genres.

Rest in peace and stardust, David Bowie.


  1. I think you hit on something - it's possible that what made him feel so personal to so many of us was that - he let us in, he let us see who he really was. And who he was... well that type of person wasn't exactly accepted by society in those days. He showed faith in us.

    1. You are exactly right. It felt like we were in and could see who he really was.

  2. I think you're right. He made a career of being whoever he was, whenever he wanted. Who doesn't want that? And for all of us who felt different, weird whatever he celebrated that.

    1. Yes! He absolutely delighted in the different. Embraced it and pushed it to the edge.

  3. Hello, friend, long time no see, but I just popped over to read your post about David Bowie. I am so with you. It's good to know that others have felt this loss, too. I'm on sabbatical this semester, and have been under the weather (something achy-flu-like), which has meant staying at home, which meant that I had a little listening/dancing/crying party every morning. I kept waking up with his voice, those songs playing in my head, and I'd have to listen to them, and then another and another, and eventually one of them would make me cry because: how is this possible? My friends have a saying: Gone, gone, hail the goer. I have been trying to get to this point, and I'm doing a good bit of hailing, but it's still hard to think of him not here. Even though I didn't know him, never met him, had no other connection to him than the ones millions of people had. Goodness, being human is funny sometimes. Thanks for your words here. xoxo

    1. Hi Karen! I'm sorry you are sick but glad you are on sabbatical! That's wonderful! I know, it's a weird thing to be so upset about a stranger, and yet emotions are emotions. Yes, you put it perfectly. Being human is funny sometimes.


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