It’s now three days since I heard that David Bowie had died. On a wet Monday morning in January of all days. And I still feel upset. Obviously, I’m not grieving in the same way I would if I had lost a loved one. But I’m definitely still at the ‘holding back the tears when I hear one of his songs/feeling the need to do a blog post for the first time in years’ stage. That’s weird, isn’t it?
Then I think of all the moments in my life that have been soundtracked, influenced and improved by David Bowie and I wonder if it is that weird. I have loved Bowie for as long as I can remember. Not just the albums (which I do think is the greatest body of work in popular music) but his whole persona(e).
I can remember Mum singing Kooks to me before I ever consciously heard Hunky Dory. Labyrinth was an obsession years before I fell for the genius of Low. I can remember the first time I listened to The Man Who Sold The World with my Dad; a slightly off kilter introduction to the 70s riff rock I still love today.
By the time I was fourteen, I had a Ziggy calendar on my wall. By the time I was sixteen, I was forging friendships over discussion of the relative merits of Space Oddity versus Diamond Dogs. This was in the 1990s, not the 1970s. Yet these Bowie albums were as much a part of our formative years as they had been for our parents. Ok, we weren’t ‘there’ to experience the cultural impact of 70s Bowie first hand. But 70s Bowie was still there to have an impact on us.
With Bowie it wasn’t just his old stuff that I loved. There was often an interesting new album to hear, a new film to watch. I’m not going to pretend that these weren’t of variable quality. There was excellence (1. Outside, Heathen) and there was, in my opinion, averageness (Earthling, Reality). It did mean that I never knew when the next ‘Bowie moment’ in my life would occur though. Far from tarnishing his already impressive legacy, these new artistic adventures made me love Bowie even more. He kept producing things that could be ‘mine’, as much as Hunky Dory or Ziggy had been my parent’s.
These ‘Bowie moments’ just kept, and keep on, coming. In the last few years, and just off the top of my head, I have:
- Received a signed photo of Bowie, framed with a copy Diamond Dogs, as a 30th birthday present from a group of my lovely friends.
- Seen the excellent ‘Bowie Is..’ exhibition at the V&A.
- Rushed out to buy two new Bowie albums on the day of release.
- Had a Bowie-themed birthday bash, soundtracked by Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey playing his greatest hits with their band Holy Holy.
- Also seen Holy Holy play The Man Who Sold The World in full. A truly emotional experience, helped by the fact I was far less drunk for this one!
Just last weekend, Hannah and I fed our obsession with Twin Peaks by watching the follow up film, Fire Walk With Me. Featuring a small cameo from Mr Bowie, naturally. We then drove out to the coast while listening to and discussing Blackstar. This was the day before his death. If I ever needed an example of an artist’s continued relevance, both to my life personally and to us all culturally, Bowie provided it.
A number of people have contacted me over the last few days to check how I am and share a memory of listening to Bowie with me over the years. It makes me realise how important his music has been in forging many of my longest lasting, and some of my newest, relationships. It also goes to show that at least a part of me, however small, is defined by my love of Bowie. In that sense, it is fair to say I literally wouldn’t be who I am today without him.
So, is it weird to still feel upset? And what am I even upset about? After all, many of his albums were getting on for thirty years old before I even heard them. Will his death mean there are no more Bowie moments in my life? Definitely not.
What it has done is make me think about the many ways in which time passing can feel very sad. Some of these are small. There’ll never be a new Bowie album again. That’s upsetting, but OK. After all, he’s given us enough to be going on with. Some of these are bigger. There are people I will never listen with again. I will never be a teenager again. I will never hear these songs or albums for the first time again.
The nature of Bowie’s music, and his ever changing personae and artistic interests, seemed to open up a world of possibility. This chimed perfectly with so many of us during those formative years in which we are trying so desperately to ‘find ourselves’. In this sense, he was the ideal teenage icon. His continued evolution, however, made it seem like this process never needed to stop. Bowie was for life, not just for adolescent nostalgia.
His death reminds us that it always has to stop somewhere. I may be being self-indulgent and melodramatic (I am). However, it is none the less true to say that the passing of such a big influence on my life has made me think quite a lot about who I am, where I come from and, most importantly, where I’m going. This is a process that can be both bitter and sweet.
Before I start tearing up, let’s end by trying to focus on the sweet. It is truly incredible to me that Bowie continues to influence, inspire and shape me, even up to his perfectly stage-managed final act. That’s the work of a true artist creating a truly staggering legacy.
That’s why I am so thankful that he lived and so sad that he is no longer with us.