Goodbye, David

drawing-1135457_960_720Scene 1: Mid-morning, January 12, 2016 — Father sitting at dining room table, listening to BBC Radio 3 morning classical music show or something equally dorky, slurping up cereal. Daughter sitting on couch in adjoining room, face in her laptop. Daughter begins (absurdly) waving her arms at her father, trying to get his attention.


Daughter: “Daaaaad. Dad. Dad.”

Father: *silence*

Daughter: (speeds up arm waving) “DAAAAAAAAAD. DAD.”

Father: “Hang on, hang on.” (he stops his music) “What?”

Daughter: “When would you say was the first time you played me some David Bowie?”

Father: (after thinking about this for a minute) “Uh. Huhm. Mmmmm. Hard to say. I was just kind of always playing his stuff.”

 

I think it’s fair to say that David Bowie’s death took the world by complete and devastating surprise. I heard about it late that night, on January 10th. My father happened to check the LA Times after we’d finished watching a movie, after I’d already gone upstairs to get ready for bed, and he immediately called me back downstairs, his voice shaky: “Emily, you will never believe who’s just died.” It felt like someone had reached into my gut and twisted. I’d always held out this hope that I would get to see David Bowie in concert, especially when he started putting out new albums these past couple of years. My parents had been to four Bowie concerts apiece, and some of the most famous concerts at that, and I wanted my turn. I wanted to see the artist I’d loved since my earliest age.

The thing about David Bowie is that he made it cool to be weird. He made being off-beat the most fantastic thing to be, and even if you never saw him in concert or never watched any of his music videos, if you only ever listened to his music, that’s still the message you received. You could hear all of him in his music, in his lyrics, and that’s what made him such a powerful rock artist and icon. That’s why the world exploded when Bowie passed away.

When my dad said, “I was just kind of always playing his stuff,” I thought, God, and isn’t that truth? Even if you never really listened to David Bowie, you heard David Bowie. His songs were sampled by scores of other musicians, and his work was so influential that the ripple effect can still be heard in music today. And if you did listen to Bowie, if you were a serious Bowie fan, it was just sort of constant, like it was for my dad; you listened to him so often that you couldn’t pinpoint where the listening started or where the listening ended. Very few rock artists can say that they achieved the same thing or that they created such a unique, influential, and untouchable sound.

Listening to music knowing that the artist is alive is different than listening to music knowing that the artist is dead. I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I can’t think of a good enough adjective to describe the feeling because this is the first time I’ve gone through this transition, but I think it has something to do with the meaning of the songs. The absence of the artist adds a different dimension to the lyrics, to the sound, because everything suddenly has the tinge of death, of non-being, whereas it didn’t before. The actual definitions of the words change at a fundamental level and take on different connotations and symbolism simply because the artist is no longer alive somewhere in the world.

We hear premonitions of the artist’s death, and we think to ourselves, “Oh, God, he knew, didn’t he? He could feel it, even back then.” But to me, that’s a ridiculous way to think. The songs aren’t suddenly about death, they’re just different. Hearing “Rebel Rebel” and “Heroes” the day after Bowie’s death, which are two of my favorites — a fast, rocker song and a slower, ballad-like song, respectively — was just so different. There’s no other word for it. Maybe it was because the music had shifted into the past tense along with its creator (even though it had been written years and years ago), because it had lost some of its present-ness. That’s not a word, I know, but, as far as I’ve thought this strange feeling through, that’s the best thing I can come up with.  

None of us can believe it. The response that I’ve seen across social media in reaction to Bowie’s death is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. To me — to everyone, I think — Bowie was a true Immortal. He existed in so many different forms — Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, to name just two. It was almost like he was on a different plane, like he wasn’t completely human. But that’s a beautiful thing to be, I think. Bowie was beautiful, and in so many ways, in so many different versions of himself. That, among other reasons, is why he was so loved.

I’m having a lot of trouble working myself up into listening to Bowie’s newest album, Blackstar. Knowing that he wrote it as his farewell, knowing what the album is about, and having lost him so recently, is putting up a real mental block for me. I’m not sure I can handle it. Because, as sick as this may sound, losing Bowie means that other rockers of his generation, musicians whom I’ve loved and listened to since I was a child, can die, too, and it’s only a matter of time. It makes those rock gods mortal, and what a terrifying thought that is. But, I guess it’s good for them to be mortal, to be just a little bit human. It makes them like us.

We love you, David. You gave us so much. You gave us all of yourself, and because of that, you changed the world. Thank you for trusting us and for believing in us. You will always be with us. Rest in rock paradise, darling.

One thought on “Goodbye, David”

  1. Well done. I never understood why my friends would respond with such emotion when one of their favorite artists died. Never that is, until David Bowie passed. I had to get home as soon as I could so I could listen to him and cry for our loss. I get it now.
    “Listening to music knowing that the artist is alive is different than listening to music knowing that the artist is dead. I couldn’t tell you exactly why. I can’t think of a good enough adjective to describe the feeling because this is the first time I’ve gone through this transition, but I think it has something to do with the meaning of the songs. The absence of the artist adds a different dimension to the lyrics, to the sound, because everything suddenly has the tinge of death, of non-being, whereas it didn’t before. The actual definitions of the words change at a fundamental level and take on different connotations and symbolism simply because the artist is no longer alive somewhere in the world.”

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