It always feels faintly ridiculous feeling sad when a famous stranger passes away. Still, maybe one makes comment and perhaps indulges it a bit and then moves on with the usual nonsense of life. But David Bowie seems different.
As my phone alarm woke me at 7am this morning, it was almost instantly followed by a news alert David Bowie has died. It was like a thunderbolt had struck. I’ve spent the hours since wrestling with the apparently irrational amount of sadness this has caused me, and looking out in the wider world, most everyone else too. I’ve stitched my thoughts into some sort of coherence.
He’s been a huge part of my life since I can remember anything at all.
He was a star to my parents’ generation. A space oddity, Ziggy, a lad insane. That has already happened when I was born in 1980. He had lost his mind on cocaine and rediscovered it in Berlin. His divorce from Angie was final. It was the year of Scary Monsters and my infancy was soundtracked by Ashes to Ashes and Fashion (Turn to the left…).
I joined primary school a few years later and my first Christmas there is seared into my brain as the one we all sat on the floor in the hall and watched The Snowman on the trolley-telly. David Bowie in his chunky sweater, introducing to me to one of my first traumatic experiences. I still watch this version every Christmas and start welling up almost the moment he starts talking.
Let’s Dance… China Girl… Modern Love…
Then Labyrinth came along. Not only did I fall head-over-heels in love with Jennifer Connolly, but also at the same time with Bowie’s terrifying embodiment of adolescent libido in the goblin king Jareth. Some of his least innovative music and yet still to this day I adore Within You, Underground, As the World Falls Down.
The late 80s started to see me engaging with pop music far more consciously. Pet Shop Boys, Kylie, Guns N Roses, KLF while Bowie faded a bit from view. And then adolescence. Being queer becomes something I start to deal with and with that The Buddha of Suburbia and then 70s Bowie comes into my life and then a whole swathe of bands who are influenced by him. Suede, Placebo, Nine Inch Nails and pretty much every indie band of the mid 90s. Then they are embraced by him. Trent Reznor’s mix of Heart’s Filthy Lesson and playing on I’m Afraid of Americans. Bowie appearing on Without You I’m Nothing and then his indie-inflection album ‘Hours…’, featuring large amounts of material from his mad computer game, Omikron and beating the rest of the mainstream music industry to digital releasing by years.
The following decade gave us Heathen and Reality, both described as a ‘return to form’ by people who hadn’t being paying attention. His appearance as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is one of those genius turns that you can’t really imagine someone else cast in that role. Then quiet for some time.
I remember the sudden out-of-nowhere release of Where Are We Now? in 2013 with delight and felt the melancholy of its reminiscence of Bowie’s earlier days. The joy of the album’s arrival soon after and finding him and essential and brilliant as ever.
On New Year’s Eve, we watched Labyrinth while getting tipsy and adored it all over again.
Yesterday I order Black Star on vinyl not knowing that it was his farewell.
I know why I’m sad. He was always there. Never a stranger.