Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in February 2016
“Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff from where dreams are woven” – David Bowie, Station to Station
David Bowie died on the 10th of January. Two days earlier he’d celebrated his 69th birthday and the release his 25th and final studio album Blackstar which producer Tony Visconti called Bowie’s “parting gift” to his fans. Terminally ill, he’d worked until the end on his music. A ubiquitous presence in rock and roll, film, visual art and fashion, Bowie’s singular influence on culture during the last 50 years seems as limitless and expansive as the stars in the sky.
My generation doesn’t remember a world before David Bowie. When I was small I was filled with wonder by a poster in my teenage brother’s bedroom. An image of David’s bare torso stretched out, impossibly transforming into the hindquarters of a Diamond Dog. At my 12th birthday party I got my first Bowie album, Scary Monsters, and listened with wide-eyed fascination to the dissonant opening track, “It’s No Game”. Musical notes mapped out my personal history and measured out the moments that extended into years, and Bowie loomed large on that soundtrack. I saw him live two times in Detroit during the 1990’s. During the second show he sang my favorite song, “All The Young Dudes”, and once again it was my birthday. On that night I shouted over the music to my friends in that club that I was so glad to be alive.
January 11 was another moment, a different note, this time waking from sleep to the sound of my phone chirping like a mournful bird as friends sent messages of grief about our fallen hero. “Hey that’s far out, so you heard it too?” Music writer Mike Vincent wrote “He was a chameleon that changed with us, transforming the listener, always omnipresent and effortlessly cool.” Recording artist and painter Tyson Meade had this to say: “In 1974 in Oklahoma, being a Bowie fan in middle school was punishable by taunting, name calling and even physical violence. Even though I was the scrawniest, most fey kid around, I embraced Bowie and everything he represented molded me and became my world.”
True individuality is often an act of defiance. I recently read an interview with painter and Picasso muse Francois Gilot about the elegant hats Frenchwomen wore during World War II. Far from being unconcerned about the goings on in occupied France, they were reacting to the German’s restriction on fabric. When women rode the subways with these flamboyant creations on their heads, they were sending the Germans a message that the French were “…not down on their knees.” Paris was the city of fashion, and no regime would change that.
When we exercise our right to be creative beings, we send the message that we are not defined by our circumstances. Through art we transcend. David Bowie personified this through his extravagant, theatrical rebellion against all things ordinary. So go ahead, be an alien. He forged a glittering path.
We’ll take care of it from here, David. Farewell