It’s hard for me to write about Bowie. His death has hit me, and it has been surprising. I’ve been telling people for decades that I don’t give a shit about celebrities or their lives – they live their lives and I live mine, and if we have interactions it’s primarily mercantile.
But Bowie was different in this, as usual. In part, it’s because he was a constant background presence in my life from the time I really became aware of music. I was a fan of much of his work, and he was one of my favorite musicians, though I couldn’t tell you much of anything about his personal life, nor could I outline the more esoteric parts of his career. I listened to his music. I bought his albums. I appreciated his music. That should have been the end of it. If I were mourning one of the markers of my childhood, that could explain some of the loss I’ve felt over the last couple days.
It’s not just that, though. His work – his life – helped define our cultural space. He showed what one visionary can do and be if unfettered by fear of failure. He was careful and calculating in his projects, yes, but he always presented himself with honesty, pushing toward a new frontier, bringing other perspectives into the limelight.
Perhaps more importantly, this lesson speaks directly to artists and creators. Be who you are. Do what you want. Don’t fit into anyone’s box. Remember that your vision is the important one. Look what David Bowie—fearless, fearless David Bowie—accomplished by doing just that.
There’s a connection to Torment here, of course. One of our central themes is legacy, and one of our central discussions is about what is left behind when we are gone. (There’s a secondary connection, in that one of our central characters is the Changing God – but the Changing God is a man who struggles against his mortality as he changes his faces, while Bowie’s transformations came from a place of creativity and joy.)
Here. “Lazarus”, his final video.
Watch it, knowing that he knows he’s dying, and soon, and he’s fearless about his image. This is the face of a man who knows what he has done with his life, and he is – not quite content, but accepting – accepting that he cannot go on, that he has been a creator and a visionary and an inspiration. The communication, the medium, the message is everything. A last gift, a gracious message to those who had grown up on his work, a reminder that we can create and build and write even to the end, and that we can fill even our final moments with the joy of creation.
It is that mindset that won him the space in our hearts. He did not give us permission to live like him – he just showed us how it’s done, and invited us to follow him. I am grateful for his example.
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar