Monday, January 11, 2016

"I Shaved My Head when David Bowie Died"

I never met David Bowie, but he impacted my life as a kid and later as an adult. My older sister showed me the Ziggy Stardust album in the ‘70s citing Bowie as something of a genius. “Major Tom” and then Star Wars helped propel my intrigue into ideas of outer space, well beyond the concrete, trees and ponds of Jackson, Mississippi.

For me, there were different stages of Bowie: the Major Ziggy Tom days that gave way to what I thought was merely alright in the 80s with “China Girl” and others. But somehow I didn’t take the 80s Bowie very seriously. Maybe Bowie was too glamorous on the fashion scene and playing to the new MTV wave. Even so, the song from the film “Cat People” (Putting out Fire) was an eerie sort of powerful base that firmly branded Nastassja Kinski and the idea of wanting to explore more about European things into the front of my imagination. Those are two frontiers that Bowie had an influence on opening – without me really thinking about it at the time.

More than 20 years pass. Very little Bowie. I had forgotten mostly about the early impacts and categorized him into glam pop-rocker of an earlier time.

Around 2011, after living in Europe for more than 10 years, I was touring a city open art gallery evening with my European (French) wife and some friends in the Netherlands. “Young Americans” was blaring in one of the last galleries in which we visited. I froze when Bowie’s voice reached into ranges that not many humans have ever been. Everyone else from my group poured into the street but I stayed inside listening and realizing that this was indeed something that I had not seen for what it really was. I then started putting together pieces in my head that maybe I had always known that this artist was some kind of explorer, innovator or shape-changing genius that defied categorization. It was much more than glam tunes, and this began the third stage of Bowie’s influence in my life.

About a year later, after buying Bowie CDs – yes I still buy CDs – and sharing the music with my oldest daughter, I continued to ponder the influence that this one person has had on myself and millions of people. It was like finding an old item that I had once owned but dismissed because I thought it was too…something. 

The intrigue of his influence grew into an idea for another book that I will probably never write: a story about someone who had been exposed to Bowie’s music when younger but never latched onto it and then was struck after the (then fictional) artist’s death with a realization that the music and lyrics led somewhere he had dreamed of or wanted to create. This was about 2012, and as far as I got was the premise and title, “I Shaved My Head when David Bowie Died,” based on how a fictional character transformed his life into yet-unknown ways after realizing someone died who he had just discovered. No this character was not me, at least not how I saw myself. I don’t particularly idolize celebrities. In fact, I liked the satire on media personalities in one of Bowie’s later, and quite good, songs “Stars.”

Bowie’s music continued in our home and in our car on family trips. A number of songs brought back old wondering, ambitions and frustrations of my teenage years. Many, many times songs like “Ashes to Ashes” evoked a feeling when my daughter and I would listen to it, in such a way that other media would be challenged to achieve.

Am I sad for the passing of the person? Well, only in a normal way because I never really imagined Bowie as anything more than a normal person with a gift to reach far out and sometimes shocking areas and “kept getting it right,” as described by British PM David Cameron.  Perhaps the biggest impact is that a tangible part of a few stages of my young and recent life have now been relegated to perhaps another time and place. Gone, but still there somehow.

Bowie always pushed the limits. Maybe he’s only entered the next phase of existence, and maybe that Mississippi teenager still exists in a way that we don’t understand, dreaming about space and Europe, and hoping to explore both one day. We can only imagine, and David Bowie has put a lot of gasoline on people’s fires of imagination.