David Bowie went out a champion. He buckled down and did what he always did: made some good music from his heart. Someone on one of my social-media timelines had recently posted this video of his first television appearance, performing Space Oddity, looking good in a flowery shirt and very flared trousers.
And linking to that was his Lazarus video, which I'll link to rather than embed here since it's too sad to watch today. Anyway, yesterday I thought I should watch some of the new Bowie videos. They were deemed "creepy" by the media when they first came out, so I had avoided them for a few weeks, not being in the mood for creepy Bowie. But I buckled down and gave them a listen, walking around my small office/art space, puttering, organizing things, blowing dust around, thinking: these songs are about death, particularly Bowie's death. And they're very disturbing, facing a destruction none of us personally want to contemplate.
I'm going to be 52 this year. I'm on the other side of the hill, so to speak. Death's closer to me, rather than farther, at least in theory. Bowie's dealing with all that, I thought—like he's always dealt with everything he's going through—composing it in a pop milieu. Good for him! That's brave, I thought.
And now it's today and he's gone.
But he was always brave. He came out as bisexual early in his career (it took him a little longer to gain success compared to many of his young compatriots, giving him time to take on and succeed in the nearly impossible long form of pop culture), he dressed in drag, kind of ironically but with bold, fierce irony, pointing the finger at us, pointing the finger at homophobic society.
And letting his inner alienated spacenaut out, which in turn let his young fans know it's possible to turn alienation into an art form. It helps to be supremely musically talented and photogenic, but Bowie was so busy messing with his good looks in theatrical and startling ways, that his gifts seemed beside his point. "I'm a weirdo and I'm not ashamed," was his credo. It was dark but very refreshing in the conformist U.S. I don't know how Great Britain took it all in initially—that's always been a land of creative eccentrics. But here in the U.S.A., my brother-in-law's otherwise "cool" middle-school teacher editorialized a news story about Bowie with, "He's a FAG!" Bowie was very liberating from that way of thinking, for a lot of us.
He also called out MTV on their racist playlist in 1983. You could say, well, any white celebrity could have done that—big deal. But the fact was, he was the only white celebrity I can recall who did. And did it well. He marched forward in a thoughtful, artistic way, always. And for such a visually minded person he was supremely musical—a modern-day genius on several levels.
A beautiful body of work. That's all we can hope to leave behind.
Not a Bowie original, but like all great singers, he made it his own. Wild is the Wind (1976).
GIFs—they've been sitting in a folder on my computer for a long time. Here you go.
Time May Change Me illustration by Helen Green.