Warning: this blog will be by far the least organized in thought or expression. Emotion being the better part of human nature, it is also sure to override all attempts to keep things logical.
Over a decade ago, Joan Jett was a guest columnist on an MSN blog about music. In one of these blogs she evoked evocative (I can do that, can't I?) images of Mick Jagger and David Bowie in an attempt to understand what it was like to be, not fantasize, but to be a living rock and roll star. Just as you woke up in the morning and went about your day, Jett argued, so to do the living gods of rock. Humans being equal by natural rights, the only difference between you and David Bowie would be about 130 million screaming fans. Imagine what that does to a person. Bowie and Jagger, Jett explained, could not possibly know how else to behave other than how a rock star behaves. People may see the snake skin jacket Keith Richards wears or Jagger’s continuously matching purple suits or Bowie’s long list of fashion flops and think “how can they not know that it’s ridiculous?” it might be ridiculous. But it is them. David Bowie didn’t know how not to be David Bowie, Jett informed us, just like you wouldn’t know how not to be you.
So who was David Bowie?
I don’t know. Read a few dozen books, listen to all of his music. That will tell you more than I ever can. But I can tell you what he meant to me. Yes, there is that corny ‘artist’ sense: wow he was so different, made great music and all the rest of it. I was what seemed to me an abnormal kid growing up in a horribly normal suburban environment that had all the trappings of the rat race training. I’m not saying because of Bowie I escaped it, but because of Bowie I had a sense that you could, that he could, that we could all do different things without loafing off our parents, without being that joke that sits in the corner of the not-Starkbucks with a fucking beret on writing poetry about flowers and shit. It took me longer to get around to the idea that I could contribute more, that I could express myself better without being a cliché, and I’m not going to say that it was ONLY because of Bowie that I was able to do it.
But when he died, seemingly all of a sudden, I felt that pang. That, ‘oh, shit, no, really? FUCK!’ that a lot of people get who don’t know what they got ‘till it’s gone, to quote Cinderella (if you don’t know who Cinderella is stop reading and fuck off). I’m not going to write a paragraph about how his Goblin King in Labyrinth changed my life, or how The Man to Fell to Earth stuck a chord on the two A.M. Million Dollar Movie when I was ten. I’m not gay, or bisexual, so I can’t relate that way other than to say like a lot of people may have thought that if Bowie was doing it, maybe it wasn’t okay for me but maybe it also meant it wasn’t evil as well. The most profound thing I’ve seen him do in theatre was playing Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, a presentation of that character so thoughtful was amazed at how sparing he dealt out his acting talent. But what did it mean to me? Not much. But if that was the case, why did I feel robbed, why did I feel horrible for his family when he passed?
The only thing I can pin it to is the realization that he was a large part of an increasing public mindset in ‘80’s culture that promoted being different not for the sake of being different but simply to say it’s okay if you are different regardless of how you are different (Yes, these were the Eighties in which now I'm being told were so violent, intolerant and fascist). Bowie himself would probably put obvious limits on that – don’t go around killing people for example – but as an Earthling who expresses himself those limits are so far gone they fit everyone who need not commit a capital crime. I’m not going to go into a self-indulgent and rambling bullshit paragraph about how I felt different when I was a child, only that it was extremely apparent to me that I was different and that other people noticed because they told me (Heathen!). In fact, many people felt it so important to tell me that they had to beat it into me. I’d love to say that perhaps if they were Bowie fans and found more self-expression they possibly would not feel the need to up my parent’s medical bills. I’d love to say that if they were Bowie fans maybe they would tolerate the rest of the world. That’s how I saw Bowie then, and see Bowie now. A guy who sings some strange songs and not through the music but through his outrageous fashion and lifestyle exemplifies the ideal that it’s cool to be cool, and cool to be whatever you want, so why would you care what anyone else wants to be? In this collective space in pop culture, Bowie was perhaps a front man of change and toleration. Millions of people may have looked at him and thought ‘why?’ I’d would look at them and ask ‘why do you care?’ Being a Bowie fan meant that you were okay with all his weird shit, and if you were okay with that then you were okay with your friend’s weird shit. And if you were okay with that then your friends were okay with your weird shit. And pretty soon, no one’s weird shit mattered any more. Like a bumper sticker my wife used to have on her Jeep: Harm None, Do What Ye Will. From Bowie’s stand point it might be Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane or sleeping with Mick Jagger or the indescribably beautiful Somali supermodel Iman. For someone else it might be bucking primogeniture by not going to the family alma mater, or not getting that job the parentals want you to get, or to take it to the next level working a more meaningful job that has more psychological awards than the square footage of a house or another zero in the bank. You can take this all the way to candle wax and butt plugs if you want. Harm none, do what ye will. And I will listen to Seven Years in Tibet really, really loud.
On a completely different note I think it’s important to emphasize Bowie’s constant, incessant smile. Every footage I have ever seen of him off stage, on the streets of New York or in interviews dating back four decades or anything offhand: look at his smile. Not only is it glowing and effervescent, but it is never ending. Bowie smiled continuously. A beaming, wide grin. Yes, it must be cool to be a billionaire, yes I’m sure it doesn’t suck to have his life, to be David Bowie, but as you go back through the struggling years you’ll see that smile regardless of the downs he had to endure. Bowie was a happy person during a couple of decades that were really rough, especially to many people about my age. Want to be moody? Put on some Seattle alternative. Wanna shit bats? Go goth, girl. Wanna be a complete pussy? I hear Emos like Type O Negative. I wanna be happy when I rock. I want devil horns. I wanna dance. I wanna smile. I want David Bowie playing The Man Who Sold the World, with my windows down and my system up.