I was in the same room as David Bowie once. It was, I think, in early 2001 and I had stopped in to Generations Records in the city on the way to meet friends for drinks. In walks this immediately recognizable musical icon in sensible tweeds and I did my best to disappear into a corner. When I got to the bar, I told my friends what happened and they asked if I had said anything to him. I told them no: how does one talk to David Bowie?
It was easy to think of Bowie as something other than human, though I am not just talking about his space alien shtick. I’m not even really talking about his music career, and he was a walking embodiment of the last forty years of rock.
I’m talking about his work ethic, which operated on a scale that was almost incomprehensible, even at the height of his substance abuse, even on his death bed. He was compulsively creative and eschewed rules and influenced EVERYTHING – music, fashion, literature, comics, film, dance, fine art. You name it. Dig deep enough and I guarantee you’ll find a strata of Bowie.
He did the same thing to life itself, too. Bowie was a grade-A weirdo. I can only imagine the initial reaction to this openly bisexual and his gender-bending antics in the late 60s, but how many squares are mourning him on your social feeds right now? How many people did Bowie inspire to be themselves, no matter how outside the norm they might be? How many people look at the unconventional and marginalized with acceptance because of their exposure to Bowie?
I dunno. The man was an incredible artist, constantly changing, inimitable. There aren’t many people in the world who leave the kinds of ripples Bowie did. It imbued him with a kind of immortality. It certainly never occurred to me that he could die. And despite the fact that he is no longer with us, I am not sure he really will.
– Stu Horvath
19 years ago, I saw David Bowie’s 50th birthday show at Madison Square Garden. It was a spectacle that has stayed burned into my brain. Every note. Every guest star. Every experience. I had hoped, as many of us did, that resuming his recording career would mean that he would go back out on tour and I’d get another chance to see him perform.
Bowie’s death hits me as hard as someone a generation older would’ve been hit by John Lennon’s passing, even if the circumstances are completely different. Growing up in the MTV generation I was already familiar with his 80’s output, but it wasn’t until 1994 that I finally took a deep dive into his back catalogue. And it’s a hell of a trip: folk, glam rock, R&B, ambient, krautrock, New Romantic, pop, industrial, jazz… after a while, there’s no point in pigeonholing it into one genre. You just use one word to describe it, and it fits: Bowie. Because when the same person wrote “Young Americans,” “Moonage Daydream” and “Hallo Spaceboy,” how else do you describe it?
A tweet went around right after the news broke (wrongly attributed to Simon Pegg, of all people) that sums it up: “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.”
– Don Becker
David Bowie did so many awesome things in his life, but perhaps the most improbable was this: He made me cool.
In elementary school, I forget the grade, we were planning a class pizza party and the teacher asked us to recommend movies we could watch while we chowed down. We eagerly raised our hands, and with each suggestion, she’d lift up her piece of chalk and write it on the board. When my turn came, I enthusiastically called out, “Labyrinth!”
It was added to the board, just like the others, but I could immediately feel a change in the air – the room was with me.
Sure enough, when we voted, Labyrinth won in a landslide. My memory is hazy, but as far as I’m concerned, my classmates could have lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me down the hallway amid a shower of ticker tape, and I wouldn’t have felt any cooler.
So for something as small as that – and for larger things like “Heroes,” “Queen Bitch,” “Fame,” “Starman,” “Space Oddity,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Under Pressure” and the whole of Outside, plus your surprise performance with Arcade Fire in Central Park that made a memorable night magical, and even for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me – I thank you. RIP, Goblin King.
– Matt Marrone
Deep inside, I knew that this day would eventually come and I wondered how I’d face it. I knew I’d cry, I hoped it wouldn’t be something awful like cancer (I mean seriously, FUCK CANCER) and I really hoped it wouldn’t be something like a tragic accident.
Realistically we can’t live forever, but I like to think someone like David Bowie transcends all of that; memorable in every aspect, David Bowie injected his work with a level of creativity that was just not of this earth.
He showed us all that you can be whoever, or for that matter, whatever you wanted to be and has become an integral part of our culture, and selfishly, mine. Those who know me well, know me not to be a man of faith and prayer, but I’ve never wished harder for the presence of an afterlife if only so that David Bowie can make it as cool there as he made it here. Last week for his 69th birthday, he released Backstar and I was blown away with the video for “Lazarus.” I really just can’t process this yet. The Goblin King, Ziggy Stardust, the Starman…they are all dead and I am so very, very sad.
– Erik Weinbrecht
About 20 years ago, all my childhood dreams had been realized when I finally got to see the Thin White Duke play along side Nine Inch Nails. It was exhilarating to say the least. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to rock royalty.
By the time I was really paying attention to music, Bowie had already spent about 20 years going from space oddity to superstar and my first recollection of him was at one of my brothers high school parties, when someone flipped the twelve inch single of “Let’s Dance” onto the turntable. While I had heard many Bowie songs prior to that, for some reason this was the one that got through to me. I spent a decent amount of time exploring his catalog in my college years and even recently went back to appreciate albums like Low and Lodger.
I thank you Mr. Bowie for gracing my ears with songs like “Moonage Daydream,” “Fame,” “China Girl,” “Cat People,” “Scary Monsters,” “Young Americans,” “Diamond Dogs” and “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Thanks for appearing in one of my favorite TV Shows turned movie in Twin Peaks. Thank you for The Hunger, Labyrinth and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. And thank you for showing me that artist can create in any medium successfully. RIP Ziggy.
– Ken Lucas
Whenever I can’t describe a current band or music artist to someone, I usually say, “They borrow from David Bowie.” A man of many names and titles, in my life David Bowie has always been The Presence. It’s hard to imagine life without this extra-worldly presence, from early memories of watching Labyrinth to watching the video for “Lazarus” just before writing this. One thing that has always stuck with me is Bowie’s ability to embrace everything in art and life, while also being able to start new styles and create art from life. For him each album was a new phase, to borrow a song title of his, it was a new job in a new town.
For now there’s memories, and a body of work I still haven’t made it all the way through in discovering and appreciating, that will enable Bowie to continue being a presence in my life for decades to come. I remember going to the New Paltz Rhino Records in 1999 and buying a used vinyl copy of Low for five bucks. It’s beat up now because I have never stopped regularly playing it. I remember seeing The Prestige and realizing that Bowie being cast as Nikola Tesla just made sense. Both are men who, through their respective work in different fields, will continue to be a presence in the lives of many.
To borrow another Bowie song title, it’s the speed of life, let us look back in wonder at the rich one left behind by David Bowie, a vast creative world to discover and explore for generations to come.
– Michael Edwards
My boyfriend rolled over this morning and told me he had bad news. David Bowie had died last night. He had apparently been worried about telling me, because we had listened to Blackstar together a few days before and he knew that I was a big fan. A whole host of memories rushed to my head. I have to text Hilary, I thought. I have to call my mom and dad.
When I talked to Hilary (a dear friend form college, who once queued up a video on the dental work Bowie had done, while we were drinking Campari in her dorm room), she told me there was no other celebrity death that could have made her more anxious about mortality than Bowie’s. It was something she shared with her father. He was only a few years younger than her father, than my father. He had died so young, and no one seemed quite prepared.
In college, me and Hilary went to see a David Bowie cover band made up of a group of students. They never played anything outside of the Berlin trilogy, which disappointed me at the time because I had only really listened to Ziggy Stardust. They simply couldn’t play anything else, though. The singer’s voice was too low.
I think that I learned how to love music from my father, who is now 67 and incredibly healthy. He likes singers with unusual voices like Nina Simone, bands with strong points of view like the Talking Heads, musicians with complex and interesting instrumentation like Zola Jesus, and yes, of course, people that embody all that, like David Bowie. My father is 67, and David Bowie died from cancer at 69. My mother, 66, thinks that Bowie was always very handsome.
When Hilary and I saw that cover band, they opened with “Beauty and the Beast.” It was the first time I had ever heard that song. The small stage was crowded with bodies – Oberlin, being half a conservatory, had no shortage of musicians that could fill any role you needed – but the singer, clearly blitzed out of his mind on substances and the performance, drew me into the show. I half wanted to sleep with him, half wanted the show to never end, to sleep with the song. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to David Bowie. And though it’s over, it’s still like the song never ended.
– Gita Jackson
It is difficult to comprehend, let alone accept, the passing of David Bowie because that means we have to acknowledge that he was human. How can this be? How can the brilliance with which he painted the world have erupted from a vessel as simple and mundane as a man? It seems unfathomable that his artistic genius spawned from the same plane of existence as the rest of us. The scope and influence of his music, performance, design, fashion and many other artistic endeavors are as immeasurable as the galactic void in which his songs and personas toiled.
In 2014, I was fortunate enough to see David Bowie Is, a touring exhibition of his entire life’s work, and to engage with these gifts firsthand was as overwhelming and valuable an experience of pure art and talent as I have ever had. The outsider, the alien, the Starman who fell to Earth to bestow upon us some of the greatest gifts known in contemporary culture may be gone, but like the stuff of stars, Bowie’s magic is so intrinsic to modern art that the impact of his contributions will continue to ripple through time and space indefinitely. And in that respect, perhaps he is more than human after all.
– Jay Pullman
Honestly, I haven’t been able to listen to Bowie today. I was surprised but also relieved not to hear him on the radio this afternoon. I just now put on the video for his latest single “Lazarus” which has been around for a minute, but was something I guess I was subconsciously hanging onto for a rainy day. It is not raining, but on a day when we all must digest the fact that Bowie will never again give us anything new, it might as well be.
– Gus Mastrapa
It feels a bit like a plot for a trite movie: just a week or so before this news hit, I was talking with a bunch of new friends about who David Bowie was and why he was important. I was trying to explain why David Bowie was important to me, and I was having a hard time putting it into words. Most of his music is actually not my absolute favorite from its era (whichever era we’re talking about). I have never actually seen Labyrinth. His music did not get me through a dark time, and my style is not particularly informed by his. So why, then, did I feel so passionately about defending David Bowie, and why was I so saddened by his death? I think now, a little too late, I’ve got it: whether or not I dug a particular project of his, David Bowie’s mere existence was comforting.
There was something comforting about knowing that, somewhere out there, in this world of compromises and confusion, David Bowie was doing whatever the hell he wanted to. He sang “Space Oddity” and “Under Pressure” and “Fame” and “I’m Afraid of Americans,” he narrated Peter and the Wolf, he sang a schmaltzy Christmas duet with Bing Crosby, he played Nikola Tesla in a movie about dueling stage magicians, he collaborated with Phillip Glass, he wrote the soundtrack for a David Cage videogame, he played some sharky business guy in a forgettable movie about the dotcom bust, and on and on and on. Some of these things were popular successes, some were not, some were genre-exploding masterpieces, some were just, you know, fine. But all of them were pure David Bowie. Near as I can tell, David Bowie never half-assed anything, neither in his personal nor artistic life. (I’m not sure there’s any difference between those two, at least in Bowie’s case.)
Late last year, he released a ten-minute fever-dream of a music video that I saw for the first time maybe a month ago. It’s a heckuva thing, full of dissonance and strange, haunting images: people gyrating in place like they’re being electrocuted, Bowie swaying back and forth with a cloth over his eyes, tortured scarecrows and dead astronauts and all manner of religious imagery. I mostly don’t get it, but I was happy to watch it. That’s David Bowie, alright, doing what he does, and damn if I don’t love him for it. I guess that whole album, Blackstar, which just came out a few days ago, is all about death and Bowie’s legacy, and the theory is that it was a deliberate farewell: he knew he was dying, so he made some weird and wonderful art about it, and then he died, as much on his own terms as anyone ever can.
To me, Bowie was a touchstone, one of the constants of the universe, and the world is a worse place without him, without the assurance he provided. For a brief window, while the rest of us slogged through the world at a snail’s pace, struggling and fighting and rolling around in the muck, it was all okay, because somewhere out there, Ziggy Stardust was doing something amazing.
– Bill Coberly
I was a weird kid and David Bowie was a weird dude. He wrote songs about loss, space aliens and Uncle Floyd. He was a unique creator who experimented and dabbled in all sorts of musical styles. He was an ever evolving constant. He never stopped playing or learning and because of that, his work never got stale. I loved that about him. He put himself out there as Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and even as a space alien in Nicolas Roeg’s surrealist science fiction film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. He was all of these and more – his very existence a beacon to anyone who didn’t feel like they quite belonged in their surroundings. Thank you, David Bowie.
– Ian Gonzales
I have never been one to mourn a person I have never met. I have lost plenty of people in my life to cancer. Friends, family members and, in my humble opinion, the greatest adventurer I have ever known. cancer doesn’t discriminate, cancer just takes. Fuck Cancer.
Today I am left without words over the loss of David Bowie. As David Jones, he wrote one of my top five all time songs ever written, “All the Young Dudes.” There is no better song to encapsulate the way I felt about my aimlessness in my early twenties. There was no “concrete was all around, it was all in my head.”
I’m still a dude, man.
As Ziggy Stardust, it was as if he almost dared me to take chances and cross dress in my early teenage years. Androgyny was an aspiration and I know that from the first time the needle dropped on “Five Years” until I was fifteen, I was called a “fag” more than I was called a friend.
David Bowie made me brave, after all he was uncompromising. He helped me embrace the strange and liberated me from the mundane. Experiencing Bowie made me dig deep inside myself and deep down I knew I could one day be as free as he was. I just had to stay the course and be myself. It was always easier said than done.
Some would call him the Man that fell to Earth, the Starman, the Goblin King and the Thin White Duke. I always knew him to be my inspiration to re-invent myself and never settle for the hand that had been dealt.
I have never had a better time dancing, fucking or listening to rock n’ roll than I did while listening to Bowie.
I don’t know that there will ever be another artist that will make me feel more alive or myself.
Godspeed, you magnificent motherfucker. There would be no me, without you.
– John McGuire
When I was in school, a boy I was seeing took a playwriting class focused on adaptation. He decided to adapt “Space Oddity” for one of his projects, and I performed in it. It wasn’t exactly a straight adaption – our Oddity had fistfuls of pills, hospital gowns, lab coats, some magic, telepathy, cannibalism, an odd story about a king that I killed myself memorizing but is now mostly forgotten, an upward and outward escape. Weird. Good weird.
Now whenever I hear “Space Oddity,” I think of that boy. I still also think about the girl I used to be, sitting in the middle of nowhere, hearing it for the first time, looking up and out towards her future, grateful for this Major Tom and this song about feeling apart from yet still connected to a place. About (involuntarily?) drifting away from that place despite the connections. I will always think of that girl, and I will always think of that boy. The song used to be about her, but it’s since become about them. Sometimes it feels like all of Bowie is about her and him and them.
The boy transformed from a writer to a woodworker. For our fifth wedding anniversary last month, he built me a beautiful credenza so I’d have a place to set my new turntable. Just yesterday we moved it into our apartment. I’d been having trouble deciding what my first vinyl purchase should be – today I bought Blackstar, the last dispatch from the Major. The boy says he thinks that’s right; I know it is. We look up and out. The stars look very different today.
– Sara Clemens
It’s rare for me to react like this to a celebrity death. I’ve been indifferent, vaguely bummed out, sad, but never quite this distraught. When I begin to articulate why Bowie’s work and presence meant so much to me, I start to think about so many things, like how powerful it is for someone like him to have existed, to reach the level of success he had and still hang onto his creative control without compromise, and what that means for being a public quantity while holding on to a private self that the public doesn’t really get to have. To play with identity and art and artifice and be that consistently inventive, evocative and intelligent – and succeed like gangbusters – gives me hope as a creator.
But, perhaps in a less intellectually lofty way, the loss of him – or rather, what he represented–is the loss of something I so rarely get to see and have. An artist, a genius, but also bisexual weirdo who made a space for himself. That’s something I need to see and have and I know I’m not alone in that. People like Bowie let me feel like it’s OK for me to be exactly who I am, and never compromise or flinch for an instant, and losing that feels like a gut punch that I’m still recovering from.
But the other thing that’s so alarming is how out of left field it all feels. David Bowie can’t die. He’s an immortal queer music alien! A goblin king! But of course the truth is he can, and did, because he was just a man. He was larger than life, but he was a mortal, fallible human man. He was flawed. He made mistakes. I can’t apologize for or justify those facts. But I also refuse to hang that over the shoulder of every other queer weirdo looking for a little dignity in their work and their life, grieving this. Grieving the loss of someone who, by and large, did so much to influence and empower the kinds of people the world likes to keep on the fringes. Bowie was a man, imperfect, human, complicated and beautiful. Of course we all thought his death was at first a hoax. Of course we didn’t want to believe it. Of course we can’t deal with the fact that we was mortal after all. Of course this hurts.
If there’s anything I can take away, at least I can go on knowing he lives on in all the wonderful things he helped inspire, and what that means to me. I can be, unflinchingly, the weirdo I want and need to be, and try to live a life so full and grand that the mere suggestion of death sounds absurd. Tomorrow belongs to those who hear it coming, so we turn and face the strange changes.
– Lana Polansky