My friend Daniel Markham recently posted on Facebook about how awesome Facebook is this week. He called it “Bowiebook” and I’m sad that the constant stream of wonderful YouTube videos and remembrances of David Bowie has already started to thin out. So many people had intense, highly personal relationships with him as an artist, and I’ve seen people in deep mourning that I know well and with whom the subject of Bowie was never discussed.
This is a real aspect of David Bowie The Artist that did not become obvious until he died, but I see it in myself and my own relationship with him. My love for his music - and if we’re being honest, what I really mean when I say that is his art in total - was intense but it was also largely a private affair. I have had long arguments and given loud proclamations about many other musicians that I also love, mostly in the ranks of rock and Motown, but I never talked about Bowie all that much.
I think this is partly because I fell in love with so many different versions of Bowie for so many reasons that I couldn’t articulate a single experience that rooted me to his music. I know what that was for John Bonham: my father noticed my interest in drumming, bought me a copy of LED ZEPPELIN IV, and skipped right to “When The Levee Breaks” and I was blown away, forever changed, #blessup. I found Nina Simone at 13 while watching POINT OF NO RETURN on cable, and my mother said I got visibly angry that she or my father hadn’t introduced me to her before then.
I can divide my life into segments based on when I discovered various musicians, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about David Bowie. I never talked about him much, even though his music and interviews so often reassured me that I, a long-haired non-religious ultra-progressive kid growing up in a small Texas town, was just fine the way I was, and that I wasn't alone, and that I would be okay. I related to him because I felt like his words and music didn’t judge, but rather only observed. I kept him to myself, and I was crushed to find out he’d died. Like grown-man-weeping-alone-in-a-bathroom crushed.
There have been many wonderful memorials to him, but I liked one in particular. A tweet from someone I don’t know, with the handle @ElusiveJ, who said "Thinking about how we mourn artists we've never met. We don't cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves." David Bowie didn’t know me. My love for or understanding of his music was no more deep or better than yours. What he meant to me was for me alone, and it is the same for everyone else.
His final acts of art have helped me understand something more clearly about my own existence. I have forever had the problem of comparing myself at the beginnings of things to people much farther along. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and he ain’t kidding. But watching David Bowie make an album like BLACKSTAR and a final video like “Lazarus” is essentially having the privilege of getting to observe someone go out explicitly on their own terms. It is a most deliberate version of dying with dignity - he said hello to the world with art, and he made art all his life, and he said goodbye to the world with art.
I said this more than once on Monday, and I will say it again here, in closing: David Bowie died like he lived - way cooler than anyone else on Earth. It is crazy, and inspiring to me as someone who lives a creative life. It says that whatever thing I am into or have been wanting to work on, I should do it. You should, too.