It seems impossible, but David Bowie died on Monday. In shock and disbelief, I spent the day drawing and listening to my favourite Bowie songs and trying not to cry at Lauren Laverne’s amazing tribute on Radio 6.
The statements started creeping out from all corners of the music world. Instagram and facebook were flooded with various images of the alien angel. Angie was told on Big Brother and Channel 5 were everything thats wrong with the mainstream media. And, worldwide, Bowie’s voice poured out of a billion speakers and headphones.
Look up here, I’m in heaven,
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now.
No one will ever claim that Bowie, the human firework, was underappreciated in his lifetime, but the outpouring of grief and love from an immesurable number of people both famous and not, old and young, was overwhelming. As is all too often the case, it was his death that revealed the true value of his life. And what a life.
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
After someone dies it becomes impossible to separate your memories as they were from the rose-tinted nostalgia they become brushed with in hindsight, but we’ve all got Bowie memories. Everyone from Mick Jagger to my grandma has Bowie memories. Even those heathens creeping into facebook posts with their ‘why do you care?’ comments have Bowie memories. And if his death has made those memories all the more poignant, then bring it on.
Here is just a small selection of my Bowie moments as they came back to me on Monday, and an even smaller selection of his best lyrics, as they are with me always.
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Bowie is me at 17, endlessly sat on buses to and from the college I hated, plugging in headphones and pressing play and being lifted out of my seat and out of the bus and out of the traffic light nights and into the arms of alien daydreams.
I think about a world to come
Where the books were found
by the Golden ones
Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for
All the strangers came today
He is that little bubble I created for myself when the world didn’t seem bright enough or big enough or good enough.
Such is the stuff
From where dreams are woven
He is the time in my life when the music I listened to was the only way I knew how to define myself. When I was in danger of defining myself solely by The Smiths in all their melancholic glory, Ziggy burst through and pulled me into the mystical magical world of his genre-gender-style-bending ways.
We live for just these twenty years
Do we have to die for the fifty more?
Bowie led me from indie to glam rock to punk and blues. Undefinable, chameleon, eternal.
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time
He was dancing with my friends in my parents’ kitchen
If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower
He was being late to class because litsening to the end of Rebel Rebel was more important to me than the 10% attendance grade
We like dancing and we look divine
You love bands when they’re playing hard
You want more and you want it fast
They put you down, they say I’m wrong
You tacky thing, you put them on
He was obsessively playing Rock n Roll Suicide on repeat for weeks.
Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone
We want our heroes to be angels and idols and superhuman. We don’t want the shades of grey, the stories about sexual indescretions or worse, the stories that bring them down to our level or lower. We don’t want the bad and we definitely dont want the mundane. Bowie dying is mundane and we wanted him to be above that. Bowie was glitter, stars, and lyrics which burst like constellations. But he was also a person, as endlessly flawed as he was impossibly brilliant, as unkowable as he always tried to tell us he was through his myriad self-reincarnations.
I’m not a prophet
or a stone age man
Just a mortal
with the potential of a superman
I’m living on
The artists we love are not people in our lives. They are not friends who have died, they are not our parents or our children or our family pets. But we feel their absence and we feel grief and loss because they are us. Because they are us at 15, drunk for the first time on cheap cider and yelling the lyrics to Lets Dance at the top of our lungs, us at 20, playing Heroes 4,000 miles from home and feeling the knot of homesickness loosen. They are us, two days ago, listening Starman, still in shock, and knowing you will never, ever forget where you were the moment you found out the something-more-than-human Bowie died.
Smiling and waving and looking so fine
don’t think you knew you were in this song
They are memories of our happiest and hardest moments. Among the endless list of people I have met and people I haven’t, family, friends, poets, artists, writers, musicians who have all shaped me in some way, Bowie is firmly among the most influential and by far the most glitter-covered.
I’m happy. I hope you’re happy too.
And it doesn’t matter that he wasn’t perfect. I don’t need heroes and angels and superhuman idols. I don’t need to have met him and liked him and loved him. I need those lyrics which taught me about life more than any schoolteacher ever did and I need those melodies which soundtrack my memories.
If our love song
Could fly over mountains
Could laugh at the ocean
Just like the films
There’s no reason
To feel all the hard times
That’s what Bowie was for those of us who didn’t know him. His music, his ideas, his voice. He was art personified and he is perennial.
There’s a starman, waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’ll blow our minds
He is still living on.