Loving the Alien: Remembering David Bowie

Heel head over, but we're strangers
when we meet...
We lost David Bowie a week ago. In the first few days of 2016, we've also lost Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister, Alan Rickman, Celine Dion's husband and manager René Angélil and poets C.D. Wright and Francisco X. Alarcon. Tonight we lost Glenn Frey. So much talent gone in such a short time is a shock to the system. I'm almost afraid to turn on the TV or check social media to see who else we will lose.

Bowie's death has affected me the most. I got a text at 6 a.m. last Monday from my friend Donna with the news that he was gone at age 69, succumbing to the cancer he'd been diagnosed with 18 months ago. The weekend before, his new album, Blackstar, was on repeat. I'd watched the haunting "Lazarus" video over and over, proclaiming it as one of his best songs ever not knowing this album, these songs and that video were his carefully curated goodbye to his fans and this world.

In Bowie terms, I was a "late fan." I discovered him post Ziggy Stardust, post Aladdin Sane, post Thin White Duke. As an '80s kid, my introduction was the pop-jazz punch of "Let's Dance." This Bowie was nattily dressed in linen suits, perfectly coiffed blonde hair and looking incredibly handsome. He was made for MTV, which dawned just as Bowie's space odyssey crash landed back on Earth in an era of excess and narcism that he had already decided to eschew after indulging in all the sex, drug, rock 'n roll cliches and foibles of the '70s.

I love '80s Bowie, even if he never got very comfortable with that decade of his career. He would later call it the lowest point in his life artistically. He would try and shake off the '80s by forming a rock band called Tin Machine that no one cared about before reinventing himself yet again in the '90s with three of his best albums: Back Tie White Noise, Outside and Earthling. This was rock Bowie, electronic Bowie, industrial Bowie. Rather than dabbling in personas, he was pursuing musical sounds and genres that interested him. It was less about what the fans wanted and more about exploring his art.

Put on your red shoes
and dance the blues...
After a 10 year absence and a serious health crisis after suffering a heart attack on stage, Bowie returned with no warning in early 2013 with The Next Day – unquestionably one of the best albums of his entire career. And then again on Jan. 8, his 69th birthday, with the blindingly brilliant Blackstar. And then he was dead. And I, along with a legion of other fans, was devastated.

Bowie was an artist who had been part of the soundtrack of my life for more than 30 years. He was so larger than life, so otherworldly, that he did seem immortal. Bowie's androgyny and fluid sexuality made my coming out a liberating rather than frightening experience. He informed so much of my early poetry and writing. The Outside album – planned as the first in a series of storytelling-style albums with music and spoken interludes – is a criminally underrated masterpiece. Outside arrived in 1995, a pivotal creative year for me as my poetic voice started to grow and I embarked on the trip to London and Paris that would inspire The Venus Trilogy. "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," "I Have Not Been to Oxford Town," "Hello Spaceboy," "We Prick You" and "Strangers When We Meet" (which still brings a lump to my throat 20 years later) became part of the soundtrack of Martin Paige exploring beyond his – and my own – comfort zones in Conquering Venus.

The '90s were also when I really began to explore Bowie's entire oeuvre, realizing that I had heard so much of his work as a child in the 70s without knowing who I was listening to – "Life on Mars," "Fame," "Changes," "Golden Years," "Heroes, "Ashes to Ashes." I'd loved Bowie before I knew him. I'd also discover Bowie the actor – The Man Who Fell To Earth, Labyrinth, The Hunger and his bizarre appearance as FBI agent Philip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Ain't that just like me...
What I loved about Bowie is that he continually defied expectations and, as his longtime producer Tony Visconti said, Bowie "always did what he wanted to do." When Bowie found out last year that his cancer was terminal, he decided that his death would be just as artful as his life. He got to see his musical Lazarus premiere in New York, finished Blackstar and two surreal music videos. The image of Bowie – older and frail – striking one of his flamboyant poses before shimmying backwards into a wardrobe and closing the door in "Lazarus" feels like a wink to the audience (going back into the closet after famously proclaiming himself gay long before any other celebrity would dare do so) and a final goodbye. Personally, I like to think of the wardrobe as a time machine (wouldn't Bowie have made a great Doctor Who?), or the passageway to Narnia, a spaceship to Mars or a transporter to return him to whatever planet he beamed down from so long ago to grace us with his presence.

From what I've read in the past week, Bowie faced his mortality with grace, humor and determination. He didn't want to leave his art unfinished. I identify with this most of all. I am not afraid to die – and I hope I have quite a few decades ahead of me – but I want to finish what I've started as a writer. I have another poetry collection and a book of connected short stories in progress, an idea for another trilogy of novels exploring some of the other characters who appeared in The Venus Trilogy and a travel memoir. That's a lot of work and I expect it to keep me busy right up until the end of my life. There's a comfort in that and also a feeling of excitement and only the slightest sense, right now, of urgency.

Thank you for everything you gave us, David Bowie – you Starman.
The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time. - DB


nerak_g said…
I spent hours this weekend at Joe's Coffee in East Atlanta.All of those hours were filled with the Sirius xm Bowie station. At one point I found myself in the bathroom, with my heart falling on the floor to "we could be heroes" the one song I knew would do it.He was part of my high school soundtracks as a weird & Liquid Sky when I came out---androg is okay!! I loved him in The Hunger. He was just so queer, always.I went to see him with Tin Machine because I was a fan of his as well as Nine Inch Nails & I loved his collaboration with Trent. He was always a great collaborator.
Then, When I was in Germany in the 90s, I became familiar with how so loved he was there from the Berlin years.
In years to come, I'm going to have to remind myself that he's gone.
He's not who I think of first in terms of foundational identity---but if I really think about it, he really informed my androg sense of self.The beauty of it that I was maybe too young to even articulate it at the time. <3

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