David Bowie’s death hit me hard.
I did not cry. I didn’t put my life on hold, to better cope with the shock. And it was shocking, make no mistake.
I’m not the first person, nor will I be the last, to say that Bowie’s demise seemed like an impossibility. How could such a life force die? How could one so brilliant, so creatively alive, be gone all of a sudden?
During the first two months of 2016, I listened to his music and almost no one else’s. But to what end?
There was more to it than just the death of a great rock star. Yes, Bowie was an amazing songwriter. He had mastered his medium (and had proven his durability in more than one). But what else? Well–-I had discovered him in my sophomore year of high school, when I was an emotional blob looking for a way to express myself, even afraid to start. Slowly, I had carved a niche of self in a world full of cliques and parents that weren’t cool, and had played with my appearance. You could say I connect Bowie with those lean, somewhat magical years.
Shortly after Bowie passed away, I remarked to a friend that I was inspired to wade through the records, the tracks, Bowie made after his golden decade, because I wanted to feel I had discovered greatness again. I wanted to fall in love with yet another Bowie album. Most significantly, I said, I was curious if I could unravel the stage Bowie and see the man beneath. As though hearing and seeing a cracked, frail, all too mortal Bowie would unlock my grief.
I soon realized that was the Bowie he gave us on Blackstar, his last album. Yet again, just when I may have thought he was giving us his real self, he gave us that–but a carefully curated version of it, too. And in that regard, Bowie was true to form. His work, his art, was inseparable from his authentic self. All the characters he played–-the floppy-haired folkie, Ziggy, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell From Earth, the bleached-blonde arena pop star: They were simply facets of the same face.
More than reinvention, or the fascination emitted by a man who was taken with oddballs and freaks–-by the moves and language of the street, and of high-energy environments in general–-Bowie’s story is about the beauty and ugliness of a total immersion into curiosity; of spontaneously using the world around you to your advantage, so you can be your true self, your best self. The self that’s always on, casting about for the next part or piece you want to help define you.
And it is a process that never ends.
Until you die, of course.
But even still, as evidenced by his life, if you give yourself to that process, you’ll have likely lived fully. It’s an approach that has inspired me since I bought Aladdin Sane 19 years ago, at a record store in Montrose, California.
Bowie searched fearlessly for an identity. He made beautiful noise of it.