My friend Peter Jacobs wrote this cool piece about Bowie. I thought I’d share it for anyone interested.
Six days ago, something happened that I never even considered, not once. Never, ever even thought about it. Something so sudden and so unexpected that it felt as though the moon had just cracked into pieces and floated into the Sun, while we all stared in awe, open-mouthed, gawking, and feeling very small and vulnerable indeed.
David Bowie, the incredible, amazing, inspirational, creative, ground-breaking David Bowie, died.
The Timeless had finally run out of Time.
If you knew of, but didn’t love, admire, and respect David Bowie, now might be the right time to reconsider. If you barely or never heard of him, discover him now. You won’t regret it.
If you did love him, you could probably express nearly everything I’m about to say, a million times better. I can only do what I can do, which might not be much, but I’m certainly going to try.
I owe it to him.
Bowie had an incalculable influence on me. He has been present in the general background radiation of my life for as long as I can remember, pretty much. I was just a kid in the 70s, Bowie’s greatest decade. I wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate that body of work at the time, but I’ve never stopped absorbing, re-experiencing and re-interpreting it ever since. Of course, he’s done excellent work since then as well, including his most recent music, right up to his very last, released just two days before he passed. Yet the 70s albums hold a special significance for many, myself included (so those of you considering diving into his oeuvre for the first time and are wondering where to start, start there).
It’s daunting to even begin to describe the difference Bowie made, and for that reason, I promised myself I would keep this as succinct as possible. Let’s see if I stick to that promise.
I have an uncle who was of the perfect age and inclination to be captivated by the arresting shock of Ziggy Stardust, in 1972. The Starman himself invigorated a generation of misfit kids who didn’t even know they were waiting for something, they just recognized when that something had arrived. By the time I came along, that initial fervor had subsided, perhaps, but my uncle was still a fan, and Bowie was still putting out fantastic music, all of which was at my fingertips.
My uncle didn’t just passively allow me to paw through his collection; he deliberately exposed me to it. Thank goodness. He’d show me albums, put them on, answer my questions, play my requests. I have memories of pouring over my uncle’s records and being endlessly enthralled by the covers, the lyrics, the sounds, the feelings, the inexplicability of it all. There were a lot of albums, but my attention always came back to David Bowie.
The earliest I can ever remember experiencing “edginess” was with Bowie. He was so unlike anything or anybody else I had ever encountered that he was scary. Just genuinely, challengingly scary. Not in a RUN AWAY kind of way, rather, What is going on here? Is something happening to him? Is he crazy? What makes him act like that? Why does he move like that? Where is this coming from? Why do I feel so strange?? Even the way the camera moved in his videos, the angles of the shots, even that was strange.
Remember, I was just a little kid, perhaps seven, eight. But I’d like to think, I believe he’d have had a similar effect on me even if I’d been twenty-five, at the time.
He was scary in a way that made you want more. Scary in a way that made you want to figure it all out, although you realized you might never figure it out. He truly seemed alien, so different, not from here. Not from anywhere I knew, that was for sure.
Bowie affected you in so many ways, provoking the same odd, unusual sensations whether you were listening to his music, looking at his picture, or watching him in a video. So complete, so whole, so thorough an entity he seemed, you ceased to be aware he was performing. He was just being.
It was nearly impossible to believe that anybody even remotely like that could exist. But he did exist! He existed with a vengeance, with a vibrancy, vitality, and passion unmatched by virtually anyone.
I found that, ever since then, since those early days, consciously or otherwise I would forevermore compare other musicians I encountered to that template of David Bowie. It wasn’t necessarily direct, specific, imitative, point-by-point comparison, such as “Does he sound like Bowie? Does she also remind me of a space alien?” Rather, it was more “Is this great? Original? Challenging? Creative, resonant, vivid, complete?” Does it drive me to discover more, see more, feel more, want more, expect more? Does this force me to reconsider what is possible, and frighten me a little in the process?
At the age of twelve, I was introduced to new wave and punk. We called it new wave then, or new music, college radio, I think the term “alternative” was even sometimes used all the way back then. It was like finding affirmation, confirmation. It was absolutely a life-changing experience. There was a spirit of fun, adventure, excitement, creativity, and playfulness that other contemporary radio stations utterly lacked, and yes, I had been searching. Searching with no idea whatsoever if I’d ever find what I was looking for, not even entirely aware what I was looking for. I wanted music that moved me, in mind as much or more as in body. Only later did I fully realize I was looking for something more than just music.
Finding this window onto an alternate universe was nothing short of revelatory. Over time, I came to learn many if not all of my new heroes were inspired in various measures by David Bowie. Interview after interview, they all said basically the same thing: There was before, and then there was after. Bowie had changed their lives. These artists, in turn, changed mine.
Naturally, few individuals ever achieve such heights. Bowie set the bar so incredibly high that surely only someone superhuman such as he could ever come close. At the same time, no matter your shortcomings, it also made you want to try.
I will forever appreciate him for raising my standards, thereby enriching my life. It’s hard to settle for frozen fish sticks once you’ve had fresh lobster tails. Knowing there is something better, why accept the inferior? Why eat junk food when you could have nutrition?
Absorbing Bowie was like breathing pure, sweet air and feeling giddy from it, after previously and unwittingly sucking in smog. It was an overload of oxygen filtering through the brain and bloodstream, boiling away pollutants and causing an exhilarating sort of mental bends.
I do not mean to dismiss entirely the influence and inspiration of other artists, not by any means. The Beatles were in fact my very first intensely magical, mysterious music experience and I still cherish them beyond logic. When I was very little I would wake up some mornings, before anyone else in the house, just to have sole access to the turntable. I’d put on Beatles records with the volume set as low as possible so not to awaken anyone, and lie with my ear pressed against the speaker, devouring their sound and fusing it with my soul. Yet I was always aware the Beatles had already come and gone. In fact, they broke up within days of my birth. It mattered not, how fervently I desired for them to regroup. They were done. My love for the Beatles was always tinged with whatever sense of received nostalgia a seven year old could possibly feel, a longing for something just out of reach, unattainable no matter how immediate the experience was of dropping the needle on the record and listening, whenever I wanted.
Bowie, on the other hand, felt like now. Like mine. He was active, alive, intense, current. He was in the present, but was moving fast.
Looking back, almost as soon as I first felt the tremendous power of Bowie, I think I must have been seized by some kind of urgency, a form of desperation. I realized he, too, had already produced work dating back to before my existence, already passed through amazing phases that I had missed out on, and that whatever he was doing in the present would also soon slip away, out of my mental and emotional grasp. I also felt an indescribable envy that my uncle had seen him live, years before.
It seemed as if my eyes, my mind, my heart couldn’t possibly open wide enough to take in all the possibilities Bowie revealed and implied. I didn’t even have anywhere near the vocabulary, the tools, the concepts to describe what was happening inside me. I feel like I still barely do, all these decades later.
If we could say with words everything we felt, there’d be no need for music, would there?
I’m also very grateful I’m not using a manual typewriter, given the number of times I’ve already changed, deleted, edited, entirely re-written sections of this piece…. and how many more times I will before I consider it done.
It’s going to be difficult, I can tell, to decide when to consider this “done,” exactly. Five minutes after finishing, I’m sure I’ll have new thoughts, other memories, different feelings to fit in.
Of course it will be that way. That’s why I made that promise at the start, to do my very best to keep this as succinct as possible. Fortunately, I didn’t bet money on whether or not I’d keep that promise.
So let’s wrap it up then, shall we? Perhaps a simple ‘thank you’ will do.
Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, David Jones. Thank you Thin White Duke, Ziggy, Cracked Actor, Man Who Sold the World, Lazarus…. thank you so much for everything. Too bad you didn’t turn out to be like that last namesake. I think the only person who wouldn’t have surprised me by coming back would have been you.
You didn’t turn out to be immortal like the Supermen of whom you sang. Honestly, it shakes me to my very core to know you’re actually, definitively gone.
So…in the end, you really were human after all.
Well you know what? I think that makes you even cooler.
Somehow, you’ve managed to become even more inspirational than you already were.