David Bowie died.
He was probably my first rock and roll hero. I remember seeing him sing Space Oddity on some early 70s TV show, then seeking out the song, finding it on cassette on ChangesOneBowie. From there it wasn’t hard to pick up the albums which had come before and stick with the man through permutations and variations. I identified with him. He was the ultimate shapeshifter, able to morph into whatever guise was required at the time. I knew I wasn’t alone in this, but it wasn’t until yesterday, when news of his death was made known that I realized just how many people identified with him.
Or at least an aspect of him.
Thing is, he wasn’t just one thing, and that’s what made him everything. I was out last night with a fellow fan and we raised a toast to people who weren’t supposed to die. And then they let me rant and rave and pontificate and mourn. We talked about people who changed their art form, who were singular foci. This went beyond being a fan, I’m a fan of a number of performers but people like Bowie and Robin Williams and George Carlin changed the way their particular method of communication was perceived by the world.
With Bowie, though, it was even more so. He was a rock star, except he wasn’t. He was an artist who played a rockstar (as shown beautifully in this cartoon from Zen Pencils). This is why he was able to change, to surf the wave of musical stardom with impunity, because he wasn’t really a part of it: “I never knew too many rock people.” he said. “I would get to a place, some nightclub or other, and see all these famous rockers bonding. And I remember feeling completely on the outside.” His widow, supermodel Iman explained in a recent interview: “I’m not married to David Bowie, I’m married to David Jones…At home, it’s home. You retain the difference between a person and a persona.”
And that’s kind of it, isn’t it? Over at the website Consequence of Sound, a few days before his death, in honor of his 69th birthday, they ranked each of Bowie’s 28 studio albums, including ★, his latest, released that day. But that’s ridiculous. Aside from being a subjective ranking, with Bowie’s musical catalog, it’s an impossible task to get right because there is no right. Everyone has their Bowie. He’s like all versions of Doctor Who rolled into one, and all of them are false because they’re all Bowie and none are Jones. Which is to say my version of David Bowie is the one I need while yours will be different based on any number of factors. He’s done it all. And none of that diminishes who he was and what light he brought to the world. Heck, there’s even a wonderful theory by Emily Asher-Perrin that Bowie went to Hogwarts. But if you’re a completist, here’s a wonderful 19 hour playlist of all his music along with a great essay about how he created his art. He was an avid reader, who would travel with a portable library. His list of 100 favorite books is so varied it’s easy to see where he drew his inspiration – and that’s not even dealing with his science fiction obsession.
As the tributes roll in, as I realize I’m even less alone in my appreciation than I thought, it’s a great feeling. I know that at some point in the future, I’ll share these performances (not only the music, but the films like Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell To Earth) and my love of the performer with Speck and then a new generation will get the Bowie they need. And that won’t be a bad thing. The refrain I keep hearing (from my own lips for years and now from a number of others) is the appreciation for the man even moreso than the music. Which makes sense – David Jones may be gone, but Bowie remains.
Mic.com created a listening guide of 21 songs (from various incarnations) with commentary, which is a good starting point but of course, they’ve left out some of my favorites and included some I don’t like. But that’s the whole point. Now excuse me while I go make my own, personal compilation.