“Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff from where dreams are woven.”
— David Bowie, Station to Station
David Bowie died on Jan. 10. Two days earlier, he’d celebrated his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th and final studio album, Blackstar. Producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s parting gift to his fans. Terminally ill, Bowie worked until the end on his music. A ubiquitous presence in rock ‘n’ roll, film, visual art, and fashion, his singular influence on culture during the last 50 years seems as limitless and expansive as the stars.
My generation doesn’t remember a world before David Bowie. When I was young, I was filled with wonder by a poster in my teenage brother’s bedroom. An image of Bowie’s bare torso stretched out, impossibly transforming into the hindquarters of a “diamond dog,” (from the album Diamond Dogs). 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 1990s. 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.
Jan. 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 what was happening in occupied France, the women were reacting to the Germans’ restriction on fabric. When they rode the subways with wearing these flamboyant creations, 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. 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.