Usually when an artist, actor, or celebrity of note dies, the alert gives a quick one line explanation of exactly why you should know this person. â€œJohn Q, backup singer for the Flying Wallabeesâ€¦â€ or â€œAdele McManohan, artist of the painting Godzilla in Springâ€¦â€â€”something like that.
This morning, I looked at my phone and read the alert.
David Bowie dies of cancer aged 69.
No preface. No lead-in. No explanation as to what he was famous for. Justâ€”boom.
And not under â€œEntertainmentâ€ but â€œTop Stories.â€
Thatâ€™s how big Bowie was. The man lived a life in the arts for five decades. He pushed boundaries, lived a life both dangerous and glorious, and he continued to do what he loved right up to his death.
And yet I have not always been a fan of David Bowie.
I remember turning off my MTV whenever Bowieâ€™s bizarre modern art videos would come on my television screen. (This is pre-â€œChina Girl,â€ mind you.) Things really didnâ€™t improve on my opinion of Bowie when I saw The Hunger. The movie bored me to tears. So for many, many years, I did not really â€getâ€ David Bowie. He was literally the Doctor Who of music to me: Something I should have liked him, but just didnâ€™t understand.
Okay, hold onâ€”there was one song I really liked featuring David Bowie. The duet â€œUnder Pressureâ€ alongside Queen. That was pretty tight. Still is. Especially when you hear it like thisâ€¦
But if you were to ask me today â€œYou dig David Bowie?â€ I would not hesitate to say â€œYes.â€ Itâ€™s been, more-or-less, a decade of getting to know the Thin, White Duke.
In 2006, I went to see the Christopher Nolan thriller, The Prestige. The draw for me was Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, two actors I always enjoyed on screen. So focused I was on seeing them under Nolanâ€™s direction that I remained unaware of David Bowie in the cast, playing Nikola Tesla. I was skepticalâ€¦
Then David Bowie made this entranceâ€¦
Screw Bale and Jackman. I wanted a Tesla movie, directed by Nolan, starring Bowie.
When I married Pip, I knew full well of her mad love for the Goblin King. She told me the story of her formative years watching Labyrinth and â€œfeeling funnyâ€ whenever Jareth appeared on screen. I didnâ€™t quite understand if it were the shoes or the hair, but on finally seeing the movie, it became abundantly clearâ€¦
â€¦how he was making a lot of people feeling funny .
Pip, however, introduced me to music from David Bowie that were her favorites but not necessarily the favorites of MTV. â€œChangesâ€ was never a song I liked, neither was â€œFameâ€ for that matter. â€œHeroesâ€ and â€œDiamond Dogs,â€ however, struck home with me, making me curious to re-listen to other songs like â€œCat Peopleâ€ and â€œSpace Oddityâ€ with a new appreciation. When Guardians of the Galaxy hit theatres, both my daughter and I latched on to â€œMoonage Daydreamâ€ along with a whole new generation of fans. You just canâ€™t beat a soundtrack like thisâ€¦
Pip introduced me to B-side Bowie like â€œScary Monsters and Super Creepsâ€â€¦and I like what I was hearing.
The tipping point, however, was our trip to Chicago. It was me, Pip, Boom, P.C. Haring, and Alyson Grauer on Halloween, and we paid Chicagoâ€™s Museum of Contemporary Art a visit. Originally in town for an All Blacks exhibition game, the David Bowie Isâ€¦ exhibit was making its sole stop in the United States in the Windy City; and I was not going to allow Pip to miss it.
I walked into the exhibit appreciating Bowie. I walked out of the exhibit a fan.
There was a lot I didnâ€™t know about Bowie. His passion for reading. His love of theatre. His wide and varied interests extending to art, science, and philosophy. David Bowie was a complex individual who believed that immersion was the best way to understand a subject. He was also constantly redefining himself, his sound, and his image. From the flamboyant Ziggy Stardust, to his dark, nihilistic phase, to his upbeat pop sound of the 80â€™s, David Bowie refused to be defined by one style. The more I found out about Bowie, the more fascinating he became. I think Aly said it best on Facebook: â€œWhen I walked out of the exhibit, I felt like I knew him.â€
Blackstar was released three days ago. Pip and I were talking about getting it, but never got around to the downloading. This morning, I listened to what Bowie knew would be his final album. Blackstar reminded of the earlier-mentioned Queen and their final album, Innuendo. (Yes, there was one more album, but Made in Heaven was released after front man Freddie Mercuryâ€™s death.) The album, in particular its final track â€œThe Show Must Go On,â€ was Freddieâ€™s goodbye. He knew he was sick. Really sick. This was his final curtain and he took it. Blackstar was just thatâ€”a love letter and final gift for the fans; and it is nothing less than powerful.
What can I as a writer take away from the legacy of David Bowie? Pip really knocks it out of the park with her look back at the David Bowie Isâ€¦ exhibit, but for me David Bowie encourages me to demand more from myself. He threw himself into his artâ€”whatever art that captured his fancy at the time, of courseâ€”and never really stopped learning. He challenged limitations. He took chances. He also explored outside his comfort zone. Why limit yourself to one love? So I write. I podcast. I cook. I bake. I run. I skate. I indulge in gaming of all kinds. I still dabble in astronomy. And there are still things I want to do. That is the legacy of Bowie for writersâ€”and artists of any backgroundâ€”everywhere. Why constrain yourself? Take a chance. And if you fail, you fail. Pick yourself up, and try again.
And make sure to laugh at life. Maybe, at times, Bowieâ€™s sense of humor would be downright sinister, but he never hesitated to laugh a little at life. And at himself.
This quote is a favorite quote of Pipâ€™s. Yeah. I can totally see that.