JANUARY 8, 1947-JANUARY 10, 2016
Very early this morning on Monday, January 11th, while the stars still filled the skies and the temperatures had plunged into the bitter coldness of Winter, my wife woke me with the news that legendary musical icon David Robert Jones, known forever to all of us as David Bowie, had passed away after a lengthy 18 month battle with cancer on Sunday, January 10th, just two days after reaching his 69th birthday, as well as seeing the release of his magnificent and what is now his final album "Blackstar."
At this time, I was in the process of just beginning to write about the new album. Additionally, I was also planning my next radio venture on WVMO-FM this coming Wednesday evening to serve as a birthday/"Blackstar" tribute to Bowie but for a moment, I need some time to re-evaluate as again, I feel the need to process this astonishing loss. As I stated, Bowie's passing, especially after hearing the new album, all makes sense as it is a work of serious agitation, restless creativity and sublime urgency as the music moves from what sounds like aggravated trauma to a sense of flowing departure. Yes, I did indeed arrive at those feelings from my first listen a few days ago, and certainly having not even one clue as to the severity of his declining health. Any and all subsequent listens are now fully informed by his passing and yet, we cannot even begin to understand all of the symbolism, intended or imagined, because, as Bowie to the end was ever the artistic enigma, and like the final song on the new album emphatically states, "I Can't Give Everything Away."
For me, David Bowie was an artist who simultaneously transfixed while he often beautifully terrified me. As a child growing up in the 1970's, and not ever really hearing his music, I was more than aware of who David Bowie was as a media figure and his photos and television appearances frightened me to no end as he truly did appear to be an individual not of this Earth. By my teenage years in the 1980's, especially around the release of his smash album "Let's Dance" (released April 14, 1983), I had clearly warmed to him as I was more aware of his legend but it was not until the mid to late 1990's when everything clicked into place and I began listening to and collecting the bulk of his discography, pouring over every album, becoming entranced by every musical transformation as if he were a creature shedding old skin to give birth to the new.
Just think about the musical odyssey this man embarked upon and invited us to take with him for nearly 50 years. From the folk/acoustic music of his beginnings to the heights of the glam rock era, to the synthetic landscapes of his "Berlin trilogy," to the so-called plastic soul era, to the stadium pop star years and all in between, to the extended years of silence with the public only to surprise us again with the release of "The Next Day" (released March 8, 2013) and now, to the inscrutable final years where he declined all interactions with the press, only allowing the music itself to speak for him, we were witness to it all.
I think of all of the personas he embodied over time from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, The Thin White Duke and more and all culminating with the disturbing blind prophet figure as seen in his final two short films for "Blackstar" and "Lazarus." Never would we ever know how much or how little these figures were pure inventions or extensions of himself, and frankly, I guess none of that matters now because of what all of his artistic changes taught all of us while we were all so entertained, entranced and enraptured.
Like the late Michael Jackson, I feel that David Bowie was and will forever remain a figure who inspired more people than we could ever possible realize. From musicians and songwriters, most certainly. But also producers, costume designers, actors, playwrights, artists, authors, painters, set designers, filmmakers and to each and every single person who ever felt as if they were also some sort of alien who happened to live upon Earth. Someone...anyone who ever felt out of step, out of place, out of time. Someone...anyone who ever felt they they existed against the grain but had no way to even begin to articulate their existence until David Bowie arrived and gave us an avenue that we could all travel. For those who wished to dream and explore and defiantly, for those who wished to explore the nature of individuality and sexuality, David Bowie gave us all the keys to universes we never knew existed, making him an artist that while no one could ever pin down, he remained beloved and so personal to us all, meaning different things to different people and even different generations. David Bowie while seeming so remote and so unknowable and was somehow here for all of us and we embraced him and his fearless vision emphatically.
For me, David Bowie represented that anything and everything is possible, that nothing is off limits, that you could never stray too far and that change, while sometimes frightening, can be embraced. As he sang to us so long ago, "turn and face the strange," and in doing so, we can find ourselves...over and over and over again. For what is life but the process of constant transformation and re-invention?
There are truly a world of words that I could spill for the life and legacy of David Bowie, but again, I feel the need to begin to process this loss, part of which is entirely contained in this posting, which is also as much for you as it is for myself. Even so, I feel so terribly sad. I'm tearing up as I write actually, it's all just so difficult to grasp. With the new album, like nearly everything he ever recorded and shared with the world, Bowie offered us signposts towards the future of limitless possibilities. As I listened, I was already wondering just where could he go next and now, he has taken the step we will all face one day, a journey into whatever is next, something unknowable, something indescribable, something that just may be like the artistry of David Bowie himself...something completely without categorization.
As I scrolled through the internet, I found a tweet received and re-posted by former Supergrass member, the singer/songwriter Gaz Coombes, which stated:
"If you're ever sad just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie."
To David Bowie, the gratitude I give to you is as endless as the inspiration you have given to me and the world. My God, how I will miss you. Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace.