Imagine you’re ten years old, and you’re sort of aware that someone named David Bowie exists, but you couldn’t name a song of his to save your life. At this point in your life, your musical background is pretty much the Star Wars soundtrack and whatever your parents listen to. Then imagine you catch an episode of Saturday Night Live, and Bowie is the musical guest, and the moment you finally see what this guy is all about is this:
There were grown, musically fluent adults who weren’t sure what to make of that. Imagine being ten and relatively sheltered. Mind = blown.
Turns out I wasn’t quire ready for Bowie at that point. It wouldn’t be until his MTV era, after I’d had some New Wave musical seasoning, that his talent became apparent to me. And then in college, his older songs were a constant presence thanks to his compilations having been recently released on CD, and the amazing depth and breadth of his ability became undeniable.
Bowie was such an unearthly presence, it was easy to see him as eternal, constant, even as his persona and appearance seemed to always change. But just as there was humanity at the heart of his music, there was humanity at the heart of this space oddity, and that humanity faded early this morning when Bowie passed away. A more unkind wake-up call could hardly be imagined.
If any good could come from the death of an artist of Bowie’s stature, it’s been the steady stream of music that’s been filling my Facebook feed all day. And it’s a testament to Bowie’s genius just how varied that music has been, with hardly any songs repeated, and those that have been fully deserving of that repetition. And the shared grief has crossed generations. Some mourn the loss of the Goblin King of their youth, others the Thin White Duke of their high school days. It’s a special artist who can mean that many things to that many people.
The first thing I thought of when I’d heard Bowie died was his song “Space Oddity.” When I was running my Musicography series a few years ago, that song took the 1969 slot, and it remains for me, like for many, a signature song for Bowie. Back then I wrote:
You get the sense that, given the chance to do it again, he’d still climb aboard that rocket, knowing he might not come back, because how could he not go and see what’s out there?
Your spaceship knows which way to go, Major Tom. May your journey out there be as fascinating as the one you had here.