David Bowie: Human After All
In the aftermath of David Bowie’s surprising death, I find myself stunned not only at the loss of
such an icon, but the surprise of my own reaction. When my boyfriend woke me with the news that David Bowie had died, it was as if he had said, “Did you hear the news? Paisley died. It got cancer and died.” Or, “Honey, I just heard on the radio: purple died, after a long struggle with cancer.” I realized later that day, I didn’t think David Bowie could die, because dying is something relegated to mortals. I guess I never considered the man one of us, a humanoid, a dude, a guy who ate dinner, walked a dog, and slept at night.
Ok, when he married Iman, he came down to earth a bit, and seemed almost human, like other people who get married. But then again, not really, given the combined beauty of the two of them was greater than any 100 couples you’re likely to meet. Ultimately, that pairing just shot him (and his lovely bride) further into surreality.
But, more than his crazy beauty, his two different eyes, his other-worldly gorgeous wife and his long, flamboyant career, it was the total embodiment of his creativity that made him rise above so many others who came before or have honored his example since with superficial attempts at Bowie-esque transformation. The man was his art. He and his art, no matter what form it took, were completely integrated, one and the same being, right up to the end of his extraordinarily prolific output. He was man, woman, androgynous person, singer, actor, dancer, constantly morphing into his next form, with complete confidence in his vision and total disregard for criticism or social backlash. He was hair, triangles, dashes, ghouls, gyrations, and that singularly haunting voice made of suede and earth and the finest red wine.
I grew up with David Bowie songs blasting everywhere, so anthemic and fundamental that I took him for granted my entire life, like paisley, and purple. Because he and his art were so inextricably linked, I assumed he was more metaphysical than physical, so the very physical fact of his death left me completely shocked. Realizing that his legacy is now bookended, I’ve been listening more carefully to his melodies that I know as well as my face in the mirror, and his lyrics that, while I’ve been hearing them all my life, are of profound beauty I’m embarrassed to say I never really noticed before, like I rarely notice that I have a nose on my face when I see it in the mirror. Today, my assistant played me the isolated vocal track from “Under Pressure,” his collaboration with Freddie Mercury, and I was struck by these words:
“Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And love (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves.”
I missed so much the first time around, and I pledge to pay better attention to Mr. Bowie’s incredibly inspiring examples from here on. He was, as he described to Charlie Rose, “extra,” like “fancy plates of different colors,” and “culture.” And we are the lucky ones who received his many gifts. Extra, and so rich.