“I heard the news today, oh boy”
Around afternoon tea time today, I checked into the online news, only to hear of David Bowie’s sad passing, at the age of 69. Eventually, we all reach an age when the demise of our childhood heroes seems to come with alarming regularity. Only last week, we heard of the death of Lemmy, from Motörhead, and 2015 saw the passing of Ornette Coleman, B.B. King, and Andraé Crouch among others.
But, Bowie’s passing hit me hard. I guess, with the release of his latest album having only come recently, I was, like many fans, expecting to hear more from him.
The internet is filling up with tributes to Bowie’s passing, articles trying to assess his legacy and biographies of his life. Maybe one day I’ll read them, but for now it feels unnecessary, because my experience of Bowie’s music and artistic output still feels so fresh. I don’t need someone to tell me what I’ve already lived.
“Ziggy played guitar…”
The first Bowie song I remember hearing, way back in my childhood, was Ziggy Stardust. I remember thinking it was just so weird and amazing at the same time. It cemented in my still forming mind the idea that great pop songs weren’t like ordinary songs, they had an epic, other-worldly quality that seemed to emanate from souls who were in touch with some creative truth mere mortals could only hope to access. And, of course, they were held together by epic, sinewy and deceptively simple guitar riffs!
“If you say run, I’ll run with you”
In a very real way Bowie taught me what music was. Not that I ever tried to sing like him or write songs in his style. But the music he created seemed to capture the very best of what each decade seemed to offer, whether it was Space Oddity’s take on psychedelic rock, Young American’s 70s groove, or Let’s Dance summing up everything good about hard hitting 80s beats.
Tracing out Bowie’s collaborations, with artists as diverse as Luther Vandross, Brian Eno, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nile Rodgers, Pat Metheny, and Trent Reznor, not only opened up musical avenues for me to explore it also schooled me in the way to combine musical ideas from across genres and styles.
“But I never wave bye-bye”
As the tears start to subside, I find myself wondering what it means to say a legend like David Bowie is gone. After all, his music is still with us; the albums and songbooks and DVDs are still on the shelf. I can play them anytime, feeling instantly transported to those awkward days of my youth, struggling to define who I was and make some sense of all the conflicting ideas and admonitions the world was throwing my way.
I’m not sure the world ever really made that much sense to me, it always felt fragmentary, like a Bowie lyric, crying out to be interpreted and filled with some sort of meaning, alien and yet beguiling at the same time. I’m thankful that I had Bowie’s songs, not just to show me how amazing music can be, but to remind me that it all doesn’t have to make sense in order to be fun.