“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” — Tweeted by @JeSuisDean
As he always was known to do — Major Tom, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth — has made his next transition, this time journeying from life as a human artist on our planet. The earthbound Capricorn child who artistically personified chameleon-like change passed away on Sunday after battling cancer, and will be missed around the world.
You never knew what to expect of Bowie’s music. It was rock and roll. It was soul. It was jazz. It was electronic. It was disco.
It was ethereal, otherworldly, soulful and grounded, accessible to the body and the heart as well as the mind. His music went wherever he did, fearlessly exploring new expressions. As a child of nine, it was dance that awakened his artistic yearning.
Coming from the impulses of the body he experienced while dancing, he was drawn to the power of music. It was from there that he found his source, where it was developed at the Bromley Technical High School, whose brief description reads like something crafted by J.K. Rowling. Bowie biographer Christopher Sanford, author of the 2003 book Bowie — Loving the Alien wrote:
Despite its status it was, by the time David arrived in 1958, as rich in arcane ritual as any [English] public school. There were houses, named after eighteenth-century statesmen like (William) “Pitt” and (William) “Wilberforce.” There was a uniform, and an elaborate system of rewards and punishments. There was also an accent on languages, science and particularly design, where a collegiate atmosphere flourished under the tutorship of Owen Frampton.
In David’s account, Frampton led through force of personality, not intellect; his colleagues at Bromley Tech were famous for neither, and yielded the school’s most gifted pupils to the arts, a regime so liberal that Frampton actively encouraged his own son, Peter, to pursue a musical career with David, a partnership briefly intact thirty years later.
Bowie also collaborated with 20th-century rock star paragons such as Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Queen, Nine-Inch Nails, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. His lyrics were catchy, clear, in almost all cases the poetry of the eternal. They were iconic in popular culture, and quoted in various ways across the spectrum of human life from the arts, to film, and even to sports. If there was anyone who could movingly express living on Earth from the vantage point zero to 100,000 feet, it was Bowie.
As the great Joni Mitchell once wrote: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone.” This morning in America, in the aftermath of the news of Bowie’s death, radio stations from rock, pop, soul, jazz and even sport stations had snippets of his music to play, reminding us of what his contributions were and what they mean to us still.
David Buckley, author of Bowie’s 2006 biography Strange Fascination, wrote: “He was a child destined to be an artist whose influence altered more lives than any comparable figure.”
That is quite true. At the news of his death, this planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing left to do but remember. Remember him with the impulse we feel to dance, groove and travel through time and space as the opening chords of his music come over our airwaves. We feel him even more than ever now that he’s gone.
I feel like David Bowie’s death exists in this surreally detached space for me; not sure why…except that maybe the idea that he came here from the stars and is now back among them just feels so tangibly true for him?
Bowie’s music intersected most poignantly for me through an ex-boyfriend’s love of him and his music. This ex was an especially sensitive Cancer lad, thin and talented and, as a young teen, bullied for his sensitivity, his mohawk and his skateboard. Bowie was an incredibly compelling presence for this ex, a longtime friend, both in terms of his fluid gender and his incredible artistry.
I remember as teens at summer camp, years before we got together, he would play “Ziggy Stardust” on his acoustic guitar and at one point was in a band named for a fleeting Bowie lyric from that song. A couple years later, in my first year of college out of state, someone played a cover of “Ziggy Stardust” and I felt such a pang of longing for this boy, and for camp, that I had to give him a call to say hello…something about those chords played straight into my heart; they still do — even though the lyrics tell such an un-romantic tale.
I have since made at least a couple other friends who identify so closely and emotionally with Bowie and his music. I think, if my heart breaks at all today, it is for them. And for whatever other music and beautiful living Bowie will not get to share with us on this plane. But I don’t think I grieve for Bowie himself……..I suspect he is doing brilliantly, wherever he is.
Bowie reminded us of the beauty of human life on earth in all its forms: gender, culture, race. There was a knowing innocence that was crucial to the fearlessness of his work that made him poetically eternal.
This loss to our planet is felt across cultures, gender and generations. My heart goes out especially to the UK, and those loyal fans who birthed him into being. Shout out to Brixton and Bromley!!
I remember this performance:
I’ll post this link to Bowie’s natal and progressed charts here and also under Eric’s post above:
The stars look very different today.
Thank you for this lovely piece and comments. Very touching story about your ex boyfriend, Amanda. I was on my summer break from university, where I was studying in the north of England – and I went with a uni friend and my sister to Milton Keynes (the Brits among us know this place well..), to watch Bowie in concert – don’t remember the exact year or the tour, but would have been the early eighties. A couple of weeks later I flew to Boston where I would stay for a couple of months working in an ice-cream parlour. An old school friend of mine had set off before me, and had already found a summer job and a place for us to stay. When I arrived she flourished two tickets at me proudly and said “This is your birthday present!” It was for the same concert I had just seen, except that Bowie was now in the US. I’ll never forget the glamour and excitement of seeing Bowie perform again, a few weeks later, in a hippodrome outside Boston, instead of dreary old Milton Keynes. I clearly remember that it had been raining all day, but when he stepped out on stage it stopped. Good to share this memory here.
Lizzy — I read a friend’s post on Facebook today that I am pretty sure was describing the same show (at Foxboro stadium, perhaps?). This friend said the Moon came through the clouds as Bowie was singing about the “Serious moonlight” and he gestured to it. Does that ring a bell? Such a small world…!
It does ring a bell, dear Amanda. Though was so long ago…. But thank you – gives me a lovely sense of connection.
The sense I am getting from the reaction to his loss is that Bowie’s work — whether or not we agree on its profundity — is now valued in its totality — up to and including the way he died — and which is how he lived.
That, in and of itself, is an inspiration for human living and being. If nothing else, what he did was say from his life and work all the way from the beginning to the end is be totally and unequivocally you. Its a life lesson for humans whether you’re an artist or not.