“…And apparently David Bowie died yesterday.”
Those words were part of a text I woke up to this morning, from my wife.
“…Apparently he had cancer. He didn’t go public with it though… I really thought it was a hoax at first,” she continued, echoing my exact thoughts upon first having read her initial message.
Until I saw all the Twitter posts confirming Emily’s announcement (tweets that naturally I favorited and retweeted), I was in denial. Hadn’t he just turned 69 a couple days ago? Hadn’t he just put out a new record? The whole thing came as a blow, and a complete shock.
Then again, when are these things really expected?
Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke. Aladdin Sane. Jareth The Goblin King. However you might refer to Bowie, I refer to him as The First True Rock God. Elvis may have opened the door, but Bowie walked right in… or sashayed… or creeper-crawled… it really depends on who he was at the moment he did so. The point is, he entered and found a whole new cathedral of doors to swing open. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think anyone really would have known what to do with this thing called “rock stardom”. I don’t think glam would have been glam. I don’t think the 80s would have embraced androgyny. There would have been no “Magic Dance”, or a Mr. MacPhisto.
And, for crying out loud, who would have judged the Zoolander/Hansel Walk Off Challenge?
Bowie was in a class all by himself. The first and last rock star. A true artist who actually lived by the truth of his art, embracing no pretense, harboring no illusions about who and what he was. He was a man comfortable in not only his own skin but the skins of those he invented. He never truly stopped being Ziggy Stardust anymore than Ziggy Stardust stopped being him. He was more than the sum of his selves; a human who climbed up into the stars and still maintained his humanity, even though the rest of us were nothing but specks below.
This is why, for me, Bowie was (and is) one of my Five Rock Star Idols. Bono (for his talent, his determination, his faith, his loyalty, and his eagerness to use his influence for good in the world); Michael Hutchence (for his voice and sexuality); Billy Corgan (for being so prolific and talented); Brandon Flowers (for his courage, determination, and lack of sleep); and David Bowie (for presenting to all of us humble human solo artists just what a solo artist can be).
The irony, of course, is that no one can be another Bowie. Call it a dead era, call it an impossible legacy to live up to – in either regard it doesn’t matter. What’s beautiful about it is that at no point did he truly abuse this power. What I mean is, if David Bowie was aware that there could never be another David Bowie, he sure didn’t act like it.
Indeed, if he knew, then surely this is what made him free. Free to inspire; free to be odd; free to be old; free to be new; free to forge a new frontier; free to define; free to redefine.
Ultimately, free to embrace his mortality.
My heart hurts today over the loss of humanity’s one true rock astronaut. Neil Armstrong may have been the first to step foot on the moon, but Bowie was the first to dip his feet into the unyielding cosmos and tangle with the stars. A true Starman, we know he’ll eternally be looking down upon us from orbit, eager to see what we might create down below.
And if any of us could leave a legacy that’s a fraction of a percent of what he left, then perhaps we’ve done something worth while.