My musical hero and idol David Bowie died on Sunday at the age of 69, and it felt to me like a light had gone out in the world. He was, along with Jim Henson and Stanley Kubrick, one of the three great artistic influences on my life. (That combination should explain me and my taste pretty perfectly.) I wanted to join in the celebrating and singing like they were doing in Brixton, but I kept bursting into tears. (Am I the only one who cries about ten times more easily as I get older?)
I really don’t remember there being a before-Bowie time in my life. He was there in my childhood, on MTV looking all sweaty in Australia in the “Let’s Dance” video. There he was in Labyrinth, which I remember watching at my friend Paul’s house (Paul knew all the cool movies), laughing hysterically and rewinding over and over to watch him step from the bottom of a platform to the top, in what at the time seemed like mind-blowing special effects. Then there was my obsession with the “changesbowie” album, which got me really hooked on his music. From there, my love only accelerated.
I was lucky to see Bowie live several times 2002-2003, including at an amazingly intimate show at Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe during his New York Marathon tour. The man couldn’t have been more than 25 feet away, playing songs from the brilliant Heathen, but also favorites like “Starman,” “Be My Wife,” and even “Ziggy Stardust.” I might have smiled for days afterwards. When he had a heart attack on stage in 2004, I had a feeling we weren’t going to see him play live again. And he disappeared, for the most part, for so many years. (Though this cameo on Extras in 2006 cracks me up every time I watch it.)
When Bowie released The Next Day last year on his birthday, I was hopeful that we’d entered a new era of music. And I was thrilled when it was announced that yet another album, Blackstar, was coming on his birthday this year. It’s clear now that this period of creativity was a goodbye, and what a way to go. The man’s been dealing with mortality and dying since the beginning, but relistening to this new album through the lens of his dying…damn.
So, while this post was mainly a way for me to deal with my own grief, it also has to do with books! Because, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times over, Bowie was quite the reader. And boy was his taste varied, as evidenced by this list of his 100 must-read books. If you’ve been following along with him at all, many of the books aren’t much of a surprise, and also not surprising is where our reading overlaps: The Gnostic Gospels, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Iliad. Those works influenced some of my favorite Bowie albums, like Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and it’s fun to try to make other connections between the books and his own work.
Looking at this list and thinking about his lyrics, I can’t help but wonder what a Bowie novel would have read like. It would have been weird and likely esoteric, and I likely would have spent ages trying to decipher it. And I would have loved every minute of it.
Saying goodbye to friends is hard. I miss knowing that David Bowie is another person in our world, making things brighter, shinier and weirder. But I will continue to celebrate his music and spirit, and I’m going to try my damnedest to grab life and knowledge by the throat the way he did.