It has been a week since my Dad came in to my bedroom to wake me with the news that David Bowie had died. Half asleep, all I could say was “No”, as I looked to my Bowie poster, finally realizing the true importance of this man and coming to terms with the fact he was now gone.
And I cried. I cried and cried, then cried some more. How bizarre that you could be so upset over someone you never met, someone who had no idea who you were. And yet I wasn’t alone. The whole world was in mourning. Flowers were piled up in Berlin, London and New York; the BT Tower displayed a dedication, tweets and statuses from celebrities, friends and fans came flooding in, crowds gathered in Brixton to dance and sing, all in recognition of our hero.
Bowie made us realise that individuality, weirdness and quirkiness were elements of ourselves that shouldn’t be repressed.
But why was Bowie so important to us all? As an artist he was fascinating. Dubbed a visionary, eccentric, enigmatic, a musical chameleon yet, for me, my interest in Bowie came with his paradoxical nature. He was out-of-this-world and alien, yet inherently British. His music was so particular, so precisely crafted, and yet so effortless. He put himself out there, stood out from the crowd, yet remained an incredibly private man. As an icon and hero, however, Bowie made us realize that individuality, weirdness and quirkiness were elements of ourselves that shouldn’t be repressed. It became okay to be an outsider, to be different, as we learnt to love our inner alien. He told us that we could be heroes; we could be us, even if just for one day.
He knew his influence, he knew the effect he had on us, and he knew that he needed to say goodbye to us too, we mattered to him as much as he did to us.
This message never left his fans, and his dedication to art and those who loved him was present even in his final days. We soon realized the album he released days before his death, ‘Blackstar’, was his epitaph; his last video ‘Lazarus’ was his final goodbye to us, finishing with the lines ‘ain’t that just like me’. And this made my embarrassment of crying vanish. I realized that he knew his influence, he knew the effect he had on us, and he knew that he needed to say goodbye to us too, we mattered to him as much as he did to us.
When I visited the Brixton mural, it wasn’t a somber atmosphere. It was colourful and bright. The twenty or so people there were sharing stories of when they first heard him, how he changed their lives, how thankful they were to have been a part of it all. The walls weren’t plastered with sadness, but thank you notes, with his lyrics altered to reflect the magic of the words he gave to us.
Even the few of us that may not have connected with his music, cannot deny his influence in our society. As the bisexual androgynous alien, Ziggy Stardust, Bowie pushed the boundaries of gender and sexuality, becoming an advocate for LGBT equality. In a 1973 interview with Russell Harty, Bowie responds to the question “do you indulge in any form of worship?” with his “hotchpotch philosophy” of “life…I love life very much indeed”. When interviewed by Mark Goodman at MTV a decade later, Bowie publicly criticizes his interviewer, and video jockey for the channel, for not playing enough black artists. He exposes the failure of MTV, stating “the only few black artists that one does see are on at about 2:30 in the morning […] very few are featured predominantly throughout the day”. After Goodman explains his irrational reasoning, and asks Bowie “Does that make sense? Is that a valid point?” Bowie responds with a laugh, saying “I understand your point of view”.
Bowie’s ability to influence each decade, highlight society’s flaws and guide us towards what is to come, cannot be denied.
In 1999, speaking to Jeremy Paxman, Bowie seems to predict the effect of the Internet on the music industry, claiming that music is now “becoming more about the audience […] the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable, I think actually we are on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying […] it’s an alien life-form”. Whether you are a dedicated fan or not, Bowie’s ability to influence each decade, highlight society’s flaws and guide us towards what is to come, cannot be denied. Reflecting this, comes a worldwide thank you to the man that influenced so many of our lives.
So for my goodbye, having redrafted this piece over and over again, I realized that no words could ever do Bowie justice, or truly express my gratitude to him. Therefore, it only seems fitting that my farewell to him will be with his own words:
‘The stars look very different today and, although time may change me, I will always put on my red shoes and dance the blues. Don’t get me wrong, I’m only dancing, I know we’re driving our Mamas and Papas insane and my face is a mess, but “Hot Tramp, I love you so”. We now know we were all in the bestselling show and, maybe one day, we will know if there is life on mars, but for now, we’ll look out our window to see your light, knowing you’d like to come and meet us, but you’ll blow our minds. We have let all the children boogie and we are all dancing in the street, wanting our Young Americans. So “Wham Bam Thank you Ma’am”, for giving us your hand and telling us we’re wonderful, for making us heroes just for one day, for teaching us about modern love and that, under pressure, love dares us to change our way of caring about ourselves. Nothing is going to stop us in these golden years, and we’re happy, hope you’re happy too. And as Ziggy plays guitar, the stars are never far away, and never sleeping, and neither will your Blackstar, ain’t that just like you?’
RIP David Bowie.