Nothing screams at me to be more nurturing to myself and design a life worth living like facing the death of someone I love. I knew this moment would someday come, but I couldn’t predict when or how hard the news would hit me. But I suppose that’s one way to measure my affection for a dear old friend I never met---the fact that I consciously anticipated his passing.
David Bowie died on Jan. 10 (two days after his birthday and three days after mine) and the day following the release of his final gift, an album called Black Star, which is almost too much for me to swallow all at once. We met many times in my dreams, where we knew each other quite well, and I’d awaken feeling creatively charged, even magical. Each year since I turned 13 we celebrated our birthdays around the same time, and I even cut my hair to look like his Ziggy Stardust persona, which made my dearest high school friend call me “Lady Stardust” after one of his songs.
He had music for all occasions and every emotion under the sun from the crooning favorites from Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the happy anthems from Let’s Dance like the title track and China Girl, to the more meditative vibe of Low. Choosing albums to fit my mood was a great comfort during my most formative years as his melodies and stories latched onto my psyche. Though I am only slightly older than his oldest son, Duncan Jones, he seemed an ageless being who shared so much of himself.
I’m sure he would have appreciated knowing how he saved me from falling through the black holes of my mind more than once---me and millions of others, of course.
As a teenager, I never had any real intention of committing suicide, but I spent plenty of time thinking about it. I always told myself it was normal and even with my depressive tendencies that were very likely hormonal, it was my choice only to self-medicate with music and continue breathing steadily. I wanted to be as free as Bowie seemed to be to express every wild and crazy thing that came to me---just as he did. He changed his look and even his genre of music more often than any other artist I can name. And the way the world embraced it was equally moving. His breakthrough song “Space Odyssey” came out in 1969 (the year I was born), in ’72 he first performed in New York and in ’76 he starred in the movie “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
Our parents let my younger brother and me pretend we were asleep in our VW Beetle to get into the drive-in movie theater to see it. And with that, David Bowie crept into my awareness and never left.
GQ Magazine quoted Bowie in a story published in 2002 in which he said, “I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.”
The same year, he told 60 Minutes, "I'm just an individual who doesn't feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I'm working for me."
Yes, I wanted to be that free. So I made a silent vow to always keep my creativity muscles flexed as I spent hours studying Bowie’s music and lyrics, and writing my own. I listened to plenty of other music as well, though his provided special permission to search my own mind for messages while I listened with my entire being to his. As many people do in every stage of life, I was searching the sonic atmosphere for clues about how to live better. I still listen, always hoping for a shred of a tune that will keep me hanging on in spite of whatever may be dragging me down.
Today I wonder how many other people in the world are mourning his loss, aside from his family. Exactly how many people haven given in to the multi-layered seduction of grief?
If anyone wants to know what I did today, I will say I floated on a dense cloud of bereavement. And it might have been a waste of time if I hadn’t written about it as an exercise in self-discovery, which then morphed into sealing the promise I’ve already made to myself: To be a colorful part of the fabric of my culture, as Bowie did with his entire life.