David Bowie underwent his final transformation yesterday. He was 69 and his last album just released. In his last music videos it is painfully clear in hindsight that he knew the end was coming. Many have keyed in on Lazarus, but the imagery of the skull of Major Tom literally becoming a holy venerated relic in Black Star is equally haunting. He knew what would likely come after and that the things we would hold up weren’t actually David Bowie the person, but the relic of an old persona. I haven’t tried to rewatch either video since I heard about his death. It will likely be a little bit before I can steel myself for that experience.
I was 15 when I first discovered David Bowie. The specifics don’t really matter. All you really need to know is that it was at the height of grunge, I was really into Nine Inch Nails and industrial music, and I became increasingly obsessed with Bowie’s music as I explored his back catalog. Life On Mars? Is a personal anthem for me. So many of the songs seemed to speak directly to my experiences and perfectly encapsulated a way to safely express difficult things.
I remember going to a friend’s house to watch the music video for The Heart’s Filthy Lesson. Outside and Eart hl ing are hugely important albums in my life. Here was this individual I adored who was now doing new types of music I also loved. I couldn’t find out enough things about him. My obsession was inspirational and affirming. Bowie became something I could use as a touchstone to find other weird people.
He was an actor, a musician, a songwriter, a painter, a sculptor, a mime, – his identity, gender, and sexuality seemingly fluid and unimportant. He became the voice in the back of my head that said “It’s OK not to pick one thing. You can be whatever you are and chase after anything. If something doesn’t fit anymore, set it aside and find something new.”
Do you have any idea how freeing it was to realize I didn’t have to pick an identity. That being me was enough, and I didn’t have to define myself for anyone else. They’d find a way to define me in their head no matter what I did. The critics tried to define Bowie every time he changed, but none of it changed him.
Bowie helped me realize the labels of others didn’t matter to the person I was internally, and the fact that my own identity tends toward fluid and changing just makes me weird, it doesn’t make me wrong.
I like weird. There are lots of people who like weird. We’re all weird, and life is about finding the people you can be weird with.
I realize that I have exactly as much Bowie in my life today as I did yesterday. I never knew the man, I’ve only ever had his work. But, without him, I wouldn’t be who I am and so I grieve. I grieve deeply and unashamed. I hold aloft my relic of him and let tears fall down my face.
Is falling from me
My poor soul
All bruised passivity
All your regrets
Ride rough-shod over me
I’m so glad
That we’re strangers when we meet
–Strangers When We Meet – David Bowie