Death is always sad. Someone has always lost something precious and dear. Even the largest of personalities, the biggest of stars have a mother, a father, siblings, a spouse, friends. People who loved not the personality but the person. Though there are many celebrity passings that have affected me, about which I have felt grief and loss, I have, for the most part, tried to remember that, tried to reserve the deep pain for those who knew the person underneath.
Leonard Nimoy was an exception.
David Bowie is another.
This one hurts.
David Bowie is embedded in my life. He has always been there. In my eyes (Labyrinth, The BBC’s Life on Mars – a show built around his music though he never appeared in it), in my ears (I’m not even going to try to annotate his musical catalogue here).
And deeper. In my heart. My soul.
There are going to be a million retrospectives discussing his work and they will be important and beautiful. I won’t do you the disservice of a hasty version here.
What I do want to tell you about, with my daughter sitting still half asleep in my lap, the daughter I am doing my damnedest to encourage to be her beautiful self, having just put my son, still so very unabashedly himself even after his first four months of school, is how David Bowie saved my life.
Last week, I did some funky stuff with my hair and I had some work done on my Captain Marvel tattoo sleeve and I put on my Rocket Raccoon hoodie tank, complete with ears, and I took a selfie and I posted it on my various social media feeds (something I very rarely do unless the kids are fooling with my phone) with this caption: “damn right there a’int no thing like me ‘cept me.” It has taken me thirty-seven years to reach the point where I’m comfortable with that, where I don’t spend huge swaths of time trying to meet expectations or fit in. I am, for the first time in my life, fully myself. It has taken me a long time to get here.
David Bowie has been a huge part of that acceptance. That elusive self-kindness.
Because David Bowie, at lest in his public persona, has always been unabashedly whoever David Bowie wanted to be. He wasn’t afraid to experiment with his appearance or his musical style or even his sexuality. He has been Ziggy Stardust. He has been the Goblin King. He has been the Goblin King’s impressive package. He has been glam rock and psychadelic, hard rock and funk, new wave and electronica. He has collaborated with artists from Queen to Cher.
David Bowie has never fit into a neat box. And it is by his example I finally crushed and set fire to those in which other people tried to put me. And, more importantly, to those into which I thought I had to put myself.
His music has, at various times in my life, kept me alive. I mean that literally, by the way. Actually literally, not idiomatically literally. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I have spent a lot of time in the dark and a lot of time lost and wandering, trying to find something to which I could cling but, so often, that thing would be tenuous, would be not quite right, something or someone who didn’t embrace me as fully as I embraced it or them and I’d find myself falling. And so, so many times, mid-fall, I would tumble through a David Bowie song and my fall would slow down and sometimes, even stop.
Because there he was, larger than life, wearing a crazy wig or with a lightening bolt painted across his face, leather pants, or a suit, smiling or scowling but always, always David Bowie.
He was famous and I wasn’t. He had buttloads of money and I didn’t. He was talented in a way I would never be talented. But in the really dark moments, it didn’t matter because even though I would never meet him, even though he would never know who I was and I would never know who he was behind the makeup and the stage persona, there was no doubt we were weirdos together. Glorious, glorious weirdos.
And eventually, through his music, I met other members of the tribe and while it would take me two and a half more decades to truly find myself, at least I knew there was a tribe.
At least I knew I wasn’t alone.
So, thank you, Mister Bowie. Thank you for everything. Thank you for saving my life, thank you for helping me find my tribe. Thank you for handing me the lighter fluid for those boxes. I will never leave the mark on the world you did, but you left your mark on me and I hope that, in teaching my children to always be who they are, I am passing on some small part of your legacy. That while I will never leave the mark on the world you did, I will leave my mark on them and they will do the same for someone else and the world will be a little bit better and a little bit brighter.
Your performances will be missed.
I mourn the music we’ll never hear.
And I mourn you.