Like many of you, I woke up this morning to find out that David Bowie had passed away at the age of 69, just a few days after his birthday. Like many of you, I was utterly shocked – still am, to be honest. I don’t think a lot of people knew what was happening with his health and it kind of came out of nowhere for a lot of us. It’s been a strange day and I’ve struggled to collect all of my thoughts together. This post is an attempt to shape the objects swimming in my mind that desperately need to be pulled out.
I feel very sad, depressed, and utterly heartbroken; I’ve never felt this much for a celebrity death before. It’s a bit of a strange feeling, to mourn for someone you’ve never met, who never knew you existed in the first place. If you died, would they have mourned for you? Probably not. This is why I’ve felt some confusing feelings about his death – I never knew him personally, he never knew me, we never hung out, I’ve never even seen him play live before. Who am I to feel like this? Hell, who am I to even write a blog post about it? Compared to David’s family, friends,and collaborators, I am nothing, and what I’m feeling can’t possibly hold a candle to the amount of pain they’re being overwhelmed with today. Who cares about how I feel or what I have to say about the matter? Especially considering the thousands (maybe even millions) of other websites, magazines, and blogs commenting on this event?
However, I don’t think that just because other people are feeling a greater amount of emotion, I should just discard my own personal feelings – that would be absurd (see what I mean by “confused”?). I guess all I can really do is just talk…talk about how a man from England greatly affected the life of a man born & raised in Oklahoma. He is one of my idols, plain and simple. He (along with Paul McCartney) shaped the foundation of who I am as an artist, along with giving me bountiful inspiration for the type of artist I want to grow into. From just a pure songwriting perspective, he obviously has amazing chops when it comes to banging out a tune. He had an otherworldly talent that allowed him to weave disparate threads of far ranging ideas into a potent latticework of relatable sensations. His great ability was in crystallizing his thoughts and dreams with astounding clarity. That, in and of itself, is something to aspire to. For me, my reverence for Bowie went beyond just the songs because I identified with him more as a person.
David Bowie was someone who was restless with his creativity, constantly soaking up all facets of the art world and synthesizing them into his own inventions. I identify with this because I myself am a pretty restless individual (which certainly causes problems when I need to get to sleep at night). I love art so much, I decided to dedicate my life to it. I love it all – music, paintings, poetry, film, novels, theater, and anything else. I felt a connection in that regard to this man; he was someone I saw as a guiding light for how I wanted to live my life. He showed me that it was possible to have a career where you can successfully jump back and forth between different musical styles and personas. A career where you could do all that AND star in some amazing films. And paint. And direct. Do anything, really. He gave me confidence in my choices, in unashamedly loving art while knowing how pretentious that can seem to others on the outside..and not caring one bit.
When I found out the news, it felt like a light went out inside me. Whether that’s melodramatic or not, that’s for you to decide, but that’s how it felt. This was someone I grew up with and a sort of role model in the sense of how I wanted to approach my career (not the moralistic “role model” people in America often refer to). I had high hopes of seeing him live. Of meeting him. Of getting to work with him. The knowledge that those things are impossible now really gets to me. There’s nothing anyone can do. It happened and it’s over, simply put. The weird part is, when I think about how he affected me and how I wish I could’ve done this, done that, I feel kind of selfish. Like my mind is somehow making this about myself, looking at all the ways this person affected ME. I guess that’s kind of the point about art, though, right? To affect people somehow? It’s not a rhetorical question, I really don’t know the answer. The possibility of selfishness makes me feel sick and guilty, which further adds to the confusion.
I kept wondering if there was any way to avoid this. What if they finished their clinical trials for curing cancer sooner? Could he have been saved? I’m sure they did absolutely everything possible to keep him alive but it’s still something I ponder. I think about the multiverse and how I could be living in an alternate timeline where he’s still alive and lives to be 100. I think about how great that would be and if we would all be happier there. Then I wonder about the timeline where he’s not a musician at all and none of his art was ever created. That would be a terrible timeline to live in. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how we should be thankful we got to experience his presence in real time, which, I of course can agree with. But the thought hasn’t really helped me, either. I don’t entirely know why because I’m usually a very logical person. That part of my brain has been on vacation today, apparently.
Today was hard, a lot harder than I thought it would be. I got up, made coffee and felt the unrelenting urge to learn how to play “Ziggy Stardust” on guitar. The weird thing is, I had just downloaded that song onto Rocksmith (video game where you play real guitar) the night before and played through it. I sat down with my blue Fender Stratocaster and played the song, over and over, until I learned all of it. I tried to turn my emotions into a song but I couldn’t think straight, so that plan went to hell. So I kept doing busywork to try and take my mind off of all this. I have a sick dog to take care of, which helped give me something to focus on. I can see how this would come across as being silly to others on the outside, especially if they had no idea who David Bowie was. Whatever.
Perhaps part of what makes it hard is the gut punch of time passing through our fingers. It’s a terrible, terrible reminder of how mortal we are. How even starmen who have traveled to Mars and back will one day succumb to man’s greatest threat. Realizing that a lot of time has passed and will continue to pass. All of our heroes will one day be gone, one by one, and it really sucks. Given how many of our legendary artists come from the baby boomer generation, these next 15 years or so are going to be really rough. What other artists could possibly step up to the towering legacies of Bowie, McCartney, Dylan, Elton John? Perhaps that’s why this feels like such a big loss – the man was an undisputed ground breaker. He changed culture across decades, across generations. What other artists have come close to this in the past 20 years? Will there be any other musicians now or in the future who can build a legacy that compares to the likes of those I just mentioned? Can it even be done anymore?
I hope I can have just a fraction of the impact he had on this world. It made me wonder about what I’m contributing, who is receiving the art I create and how it’s affecting things. It can be easy to get lost in the technical aspects of making films or music. Taking a step back to see how your work fits into the overall culture is highly beneficial, I’ve come to realize. There are days where I feel like art doesn’t do shit with “changing the world”, no matter how loudly the hippie voice in my head politely screams. On those days, I feel almost delusional, like I’ve built a nice little web of comfort to give me that courage to keep doing what makes me happy – even if it all gets swallowed up in the void at the end. And then there are days like this where the passing of an icon makes it seem like an earthquake split the Earth in half, with humans from many continents expressing their loss. It gives me hope that music can change people, can change the course of their lives. What an amazing thing that would be.
If I had to describe Bowie in one word, it would be “explorer”. He strikes me as someone with endless curiosity and imagination. I am almost certain he is currently exploring another part of our dimensional existence and it is blowing his mind. He probably wishes we could see what he’s seeing, hear what he’s hearing. If only there was a way to communicate the experience. I never met him. I never saw him live. He never even knew I existed, yet, he changed me as a person and gave me guidance, for which I will forever be grateful. That sounds kind of amazing, doesn’t it?
I’m really going to miss you David.
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