Monday, January 11, 2016

Saying Good-Bye to David Bowie - Starman Merges With The Infinite

I was up too late for a Sunday night, still Googling into Monday morning, when Cavendar's facebook prompted with the simple question "David Bowie?"

I don't know why, but I knew it was not a question about the album, and in a Google search I found "David Bowie Death Hoax" and a post from just two days prior.  But then, when I hit the same search again two minutes later, The Hollywood Reporter was in agreement.  Then someone linked to the twitter account of Duncan Jones, Bowie's son, confirming the rumors.  David Bowie was dead.

By now literally millions of people will have said something.  I don't know that there's any more to say, but that's never stopped me before, and I want to say good-bye to one of my favorite humans, someone whose work helped shape the universe not just for me, but for millions or billions.

The Alamo Drafthouse affiliated publication and website Birth.Movies.Death. had a post up this morning, and it's right on.
As with God, everybody’s relationship with Bowie is deeply personal. Everybody’s relationship with Bowie is one-on-one.
Born in '75, my early awareness of Bowie stems from the Mick Jagger "Dancing in the Streets" era, with "Blue Jean" and "China Girl" in tow.  I can't separate the three, all staples of early MTV.  At any rate, I was well aware of the existence if not cultural influence and legacy of Bowie by the time I caught Labyrinth at the Showplace 6.  

But I think the first time I was just stopped short by Bowie wasn't even when he was on screen or playing music. I couldn't tell you how old I was when I saw The Breakfast Club, but of course the movie ended with the lyrics from "Changes", and it was the first time I saw an adult acknowledge that I might have some self-awareness, that I was not a dumb beast in need of constant correction, to have what was patently obvious explained to me.

“... And these children
that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations.
They're quite aware
of what they're going through...”

Maybe the movie loses meaning once you pass a certain age, and it wasn't what set me on becoming a fan of Bowie, but a title-card at the end of a movie had earned the man my trust.  Who couldn't have stood to hear that at the age of 11 or 12 when childhood is falling away into something else entirely?  And again and again until you're handed your diploma?  And then, when you're in college and up at 3:00 AM in coffeeshop on a Sunday morning?  For God's sake, who would dare acknowledge such a thing?  It seemed positively true and subversive.

The first time I really remember wanting to buy a boxed set of music was seeing the Sound + Vision set at a record store and having nowhere near the coin needed to make the purchase.  What I did do was buy Bowie Changes, the 1990 Greatest Hits comp that I think would have been issued to me my Freshman year at UT had I not already owned a copy.

By the time I bought Bowie Changes, I was aware of his influence by working backward from Bauhaus and that realization you have sometime in high school about artists who've been around a while.  "Oh, yeah.  Rebel, Rebel.  Suffragette City.  Space Oddity.  I believe David Bowie is responsible for a ton of songs I like."

Rock and roll, no doubt.  Here with blues.  Pop 50's male vocals backing you up there, Young Americans bringing in American soul over there.  90's-era break beat.  Anything and everything part of the mix.  And the co-mingling of your talent with Lou Reed, Brian Eno, take your pick.

A lot of folks have written about how he was a lifeline to tell you it was good to be a freak, and that's all entirely true.  But it was also a shibboleth for the people you didn't need to explain yourself to.

In college, not one to put my musical tastes on the line in those 1:00 AM over-a-keg discussions, I'd usually only offer up Bowie and Talking Heads as favorite bands/ acts (no one wanted to hear the guy start talking about Billie Holiday or Patsy Cline during a synth-heavy music discussion). Bowie was highest common denominator stuff.  You could just drop his name, shrug, and let the conversation go from there.  Everyone had a say on Bowie and their favorite albums and you managed to escape a discussion on music unscathed, but it also came from an honest place.  Even with friends with whom you only occasionally discussed music, Bowie had a place.  It seemed like he was the background score to film school with JAL and CB, just an assumed handshake within the friendship.  The question was not "Do you like Bowie?"  The question was "Did you hear the new Bowie yet?".

I don't know if he made me feel less alone, but he spoke to the fact that I did, and that this was part of what it meant to be human, and maybe that made me feel less like a monster (you guys use the word alien, I'll use mine).

People love Bowie, sometimes in that manic way that leads you to paint your face in Aladdin Sane lightning bolts, sometimes just spinning records, or even a knowing smile when you'd mention the man.  He showed up in movies, he starred in movies.  He was a synonym for weirdness, style and elegance and rawness, all in one.  He was the boundary pusher with the absurdity and foppishness inherent in breaking the rules of propriety all part of the graceful act.

Goddammit.  It's hard to think of anyone else who was as cool, in the absolute best sense of the word.

Over the years, back when I still went to record stores, I can't tell you the number of times I wound up walking out with a Bowie record as the only cure to option paralysis.  You could never go wrong with a re-issue of Diamond Dogs.  When I moved to Google Play, one of my first acts was to see what Bowie I could just add to my lists, the CDs safely stored away.

October of 1995, my first date with Jamie was at a Bowie show.  It was how I got her to come up from San Antonio to Austin after two years of making my intentions known.  JAL and CB and I were fans of the 1995 album The Outside, a bit of his more controversial stuff, but we dug it, so had the date fallen through or not, I was excited to actually see the man play.  I don't know where JAL and CB were that Saturday night, but it wasn't with me and Jamie, although my brother, mis-reading the situation, bought a ticket and joined us on our first date.  The show was fantastic, dueting with Nine Inch Nails a bit.

During our four years in Phoenix, probably the greatest highlight of the sojourn was a chance to see Bowie during his 2004 tour.  It was a surprisingly good show.  As much as I'd enjoyed the '95 show, I was distracted at that one, and Bowie was only playing his newest stuff during the Outside tour.  But in 2004, he was back playing Rebel, Rebel (and I've never heard the song the same way since).

I did pick up a few of his albums after The Outside.  On Friday, I had used Google Play to purchase (not just stream) Blackstar, but the weekend got busy-ish, and I hadn't yet set aside the time to just give the album a proper listen.  Somehow that feels like a failure, though it affects no one but myself.  And, what's fantastic/ terrible is that the album had received better notices than anything he'd done in decades.  And now we also all know.  He was saying good-bye with the album.

How... amazing is that?  How tragic?  How wonderful?

Yes, we knew Bowie was no longer a young man.  I'd heard he'd had health issues on and off.  No one knew.  It seemed like an irresponsible rumor in those first minutes, and then finding out it was true...  It's nice to know we're telling each other its okay to grieve a man none of us knew, not really.  We're not so kind to each other about so many things.

It's a strange period.  At 40, I'm used to the acts and talent my parents and grandparents thought of as musicians and stars passing.  Maybe the first one that went that somehow took me a bit by surprise was Sinatra.  How could the world exist without Frank Sinatra out there somewhere?

But it's no mistake we track passages into The Infinite at this site.  We've gone from bidding an older generation a fond adieu to the occasional accident or tragic illness of someone taken young.  And now, Bowie.  Christ.  It hardly seems possible.  He was supposed to be infinite and just raise up into the stars.

Again - he did us as well as he could.  Who else could turn their exit into art?  Who else could get the best write-ups in years with their secret good-bye note?

There's 10,000 more words to write, and I could do it.  This isn't the first or last thing you'll read on the topic, I'm sure.  So, we'll stop it here.

We'll miss you, Ziggy.  Thin White Duke. Goblin King.   David Bowie.  David Jones.  The world is poorer without you, but so much goddamn richer for your having been here at all.

1 comment:

JAL said...

This one is particularly tough...maybe not since Jim Henson has one hit this close to the building blocks of ol' JAL. Bowie was in the background for everything, it seems and most importantly, everything good. How nice to have his music in times of despair and depression, when I could put on Bowie and be glad these songs existed and that I get to listen to them.

I greatly regret not going to the NIN/Bowie concert. Not sure what my problem was. I am glad I saw him at the Backyard. I think the bass in some of those Earthling tracks pushed my hairline back a bit. I will get the bootleg to you.

I'm glad I picked up Blackstar on Friday, fittingly, from Waterloo on vinyl, and put it on after everyone went to sleep. Me, new Bowie, and my turntable, in almost complete darkness. What a time.

I'm happy I was able to listen to in the purity of no pretense. Still,it felt a little different form some of the previous records. I recall reading from one of his collaborators that Bowie told them during the recording that Blackstar would not be toured. Of course, I assumed that meant something else...too layered too much "post production" to warrant a live show? I was secretly hoping for a follow up to Outside, an album I've listened to more than any other,probably. Then I put it on, and kinda didn't pay too much attention to the the first two tracks. Then Lazarus hits. It feels simple and life like and kinda froze me in my tracks. It's going to be a long time before I can listen to that track without getting misty-eyed.