We can beat them forever and ever. We can be heroes, just for one day.
It’s hard trying to describe the effect a stranger’s had on your life. Celebrities, whether musicians, actors, or authors, are just people: the same as us, although, obviously, on a much higher plane of public notoriety. I’m not one for celebrity worship culture — I enjoy what they do, oftentimes fervently adore their contributions and how they’ve touched my life (here’s looking at you, Leonard Nimoy), but I try not to blow it out of proportion. When you think about it, it feels kinda weird to say, “Insert name here changed my life,” or affected me in thus-and-such profound way. We never even met!
But we form these deeply moving, deeply personal attachments to artists who don’t know we exist, who we may only experience through the distance of electronics. It’s a phenomenon I don’t have the words to try and examine, especially when the wound of losing one of my favorites is still so fresh. But it happens. It’s undeniable. For whatever universal reason, we attach to these people. They shape our lives and help us understand the world we share. They help us understand ourselves, and how to express our own creativity. They become our heroes, even if they’re as flawed as the listener.
Sometimes, they just write damn great music we love jamming to in the car at eardrum-melting volume.
David Bowie’s one of the miraculous who managed all.
We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when; although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend.
I never met Bowie; never had the chance to see him in concert. (One of my top bucket-list wishes.) He was an incomparably famous, massively rich celebrity, born forty-two years before me. A personal connection between the two of us was as distant as can be.
My parents were playing classic rock music for me since before I could talk, but like most ’80s kids I discovered him through the wonders of Labyrinth. I had the same adolescent crush as the majority of my fellows, and from there, slowly, it was the discovery of his music catalogue: famous songs, peerless albums that saw me through years and times. Ziggy Stardust. Low.Young Americans. Scary Monsters. Heroes. The rest of his film catalogue, The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hunger, The Prestige. Hours spent hunting down used CDs in the days before Spotify. When I was sixteen and he sang the opening lines of Life on Mars, I swore he was singing to me. I’m that girl with the mousy hair, David! You’ve seen into my soul! It’s still my favorite song of all time, even if my connection to it is, thankfully, no longer rooted in teenage angst.
I might only have been a fan for a little over a decade, a mockingly small amount of time in comparison to literal lifelong fans who’ve followed his career vinyl to vinyl, but his music’s woven into my DNA as tightly as if I’d popped out of the womb singing Space Oddity. The Beatles are the only group more present and influential to my life. Hell, I wrote a 17,000 word short fiction built around his discography.
I won’t try to rhapsodize about why his work’s endured. I’m far from qualified enough to tackle a music critic’s perspective. This is a knee-jerk reaction from an emotional consumer. So I’ll just say I could carve some of Bowie’s lyrics onto my heart.
He was an ideas man, questioning concepts as grand as life and time and spiritual wonders, or as basic as human resilience. There was something transcendent in the balance he struck between aching gentleness and unforgiving, bitter anger. He always, always yearned for more, and gave voice to the outsider, no matter what kind of outsider you were. Even in today’s era I can’t think of a musician more diversified, more self-challenging, more inventive.
I’m not a prophet or a stone aged man, just a mortal with potential of a superman. I’m living on.
I’d downloaded Blackstar on Saturday and thought how exciting it was, and how lucky we were, to still have new music of his to enjoy. I can’t have that feeling again. It’s heartbreaking, and staggering given how young he still was. In retrospect, he faced his death knowingly and turned it into a piece of artwork — and could we have expected him to do anything less?
It doesn’t mean much, in the grand scheme of the universe. But one of those thousands of mousy-haired girls is missing you today, Mr. Bowie. Thanks for keeping me company, making me imagine and think, and making me dance, even though we never met.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.