It was with great sadness and reflection I heard about the passing of David Bowie. He was an artist who transcended the boundaries of not only music, but art, fashion, culture, performance and gender expression. For me his passing does not only represent the loss of a legend. It also represents a certain loss of innocence, a piece of my childhood.
I remember when I was younger and my brother first told me about David Bowie. My brother was and still is often the one to tell me about a great new artist or music group. In the case of Bowie it was a legend I did not yet fully understand and appreciate. With my brother and I both being musicians, he would talk about Bowie as someone I needed to know about and learn from.
I knew of David Bowie from classic’s like “Space Oddity“, “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust“. There were also songs like “Young Americans” and “Fame“. I remember us being kids and MTV was new and exciting. It was there we would watch Bowie crank out pop hits such as “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love“. He was in more of a clean cut phase with his image at that time. Bowie had this one video however for a song named “Bluejean” that literally spun my head. I was a kid who was struggling internally with gender issues. It was something I never shared with anyone back then. I really did not know what it was I was dealing with at the time. Now comes Bowie, dressed in some crazy outfit with some kind of a turban on his head. He was painted in a kind of silver or gold makeup. Not just his face, lips and eyes but even his hair. Bluejean was this song that was entirely strange for me at that time. I had never heard nor seen anything quite like it before.
“The band was half naked and Bowie was presenting his gender in ways that blurred the lines of what I knew to be male or female at the time.”
In the video there was a stage with a long runway at the end of it. The band was half naked and Bowie was presenting his gender in ways that blurred the lines of what I knew to be male or female at the time. I was intrigued, hell I was fascinated by it! I still am today.
Later as a teenager I was able learn more abut the era of Ziggy Stardust. I remember a fascination with the album cover for “The Man Who Sold the World” where Bowie was dressed in drag. I had found it while peering through a friend’s record collection. I was simply amazed at his ability to not give a damn about what people thought and how he was able to present himself against the norms of society while being praised for it. I thought maybe one day there would be hope for me. If I only had the courage. My friend told me about Bowie’s bisexuality and the whole love triangle with his wife Angie and Mick Jagger which resulted in the Rolling Stones song gracing her name. I was truly fascinated by this person’s ability to be fluid in all aspects of his life.
I remember it was at the end of the 80’s when Bowie renounced his pop stardom and the formation of his new band “Tin Machine”. It was the classic example of how to end something at it’s peak before it gets old and played out. Bowie’s influence would somehow weave in and out of our lives. In the 90’s, again influenced by my brother, I began to really appreciate his artistry.
“I remember Bowie strutting down the runway in a dress, pulling off his wig and smearing his lipstick with his hand. It was so powerful to someone like myself.”
I was introduced to albums like Aladdin Sane, with the pun in it’s title and the iconic photo that headlines this article. I was fascinated by his work with Brian Eno, his Berlin years. This was a period where he dated Romy Haag. Haag was a transgender club owner who influenced both Bowie’s sound and style. I discovered the “Boys Keep Swinging” video from that era where Bowie was dressed in drag. Again with a runway but actually the prelude to what I first discovered in my youth. I remember Bowie strutting down the runway in a dress, pulling off his wig and smearing his lipstick with his hand. It was so powerful to someone like myself. Again I was astonished at Bowie’s ability to be everything I was afraid to be. He was himself.
He would weave back in to our lives with the release of Outside in 1995. I remember my brother telling me about how Bowie would write lyrics for the album by cutting up words and scattering them all over the floor. Next there was the song “I’m Afraid of Americans” where Bowie again meshed with Brain Eno. It was the remix of the song with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails however that made a true statement. Bowie’s music, just as his persona and style, were ever evolving.
I finally got to see David Bowie perform live. It was at the Jones Beach theatre, an outdoor venue in New York. The venue was on the water and it was absolutely pouring out. There were heavy winds and it was literally raining sideways. Bowie went on regardless and my brother and I were really close to the stage. We weren’t going to miss it. Needless to say he was awesome. We left the concert that night soaking wet on our right sides and completely dry on the left. It is something I will never forget.
I continued to keep tabs on Bowie throughout my life. I was still able to appreciate where he was going with albums like “Heathen” and later “The Next Day”. I also recently found my self explaining Bowie like my brother had to me years ago. Particularly with his latest release, “Blackstar”. I guess it is a new generation. People would say it is too weird or that he was trying too hard. I say that it was just the next step in his exploration and being an artist. Now with his passing we know it was much more than that. Even with his death many ask, “how it is that so many people care about David Bowie all of a sudden?” The answer is that Bowie was just a part of all our lives. He influenced our lives whether we were a fan of his or not. I guess we don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone.
Bowie was a true artist. He constantly searched and experimented with who he was and what sound he wanted to create. He was not afraid to destroy what he had built in order to create something new. He was also wiling to take all the criticism associated with his broad changes in sexuality, style and music. You know you have come across greatness when with the news of their death you speculate if it was real or is it something artistic. I must admit the thought crossed my mind when I first heard about it.
So when I learned about the passing of David Bowie I felt a great loss. Bowie was one of my influences not just musically but culturally. His music fluidity and gender expression had a profound affect on me. My sense of loss was not just for a great artist. It also represented an end to a piece of my childhood. It made me think about my brother and how much I love him. It made me appreciate that my brother gave me something in David Bowie that was so great that I would feel such a loss in his passing. For that I am eternally grateful.
Remembering David Bowie January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016.