It is Day #2 in a Bowieless world. I am still not doing so well.
If you missed the news, David Bowie passed away on Sunday. Sunday, whatever time, but we heard about it here in Eastern Standard Time around 2am on Monday. And the posts began. The disbelief. The tributes. The memories. The TV interviews we hadn’t yet seen.
We treat his death like the death of a family member. David Bowie, who would not have recognized me on the street. Who I might not have recognized on the street myself, quite honestly. Someone I had never met. Someone I will never now, for certain, ever meet.
But gods, it hurts like I’ve lost a best friend.
I may not have ever known Bowie, but I feel like Bowie has known me. As far back as I have memories, I have memories dotted with Bowie songs and references and Bowie fashion and even faux-Bowie accents.
(If you have ever tried to tease your hair and convincingly walk around your house in tights over your pants as a child, you will understand where I am coming from with this one.)
These Bowie-things that are a part of my life are not going to go away, now that he does not walk the same Earth as I do. The fact that Bowie has died does not change my memories of listening to “Space Oddity” with my parents, sitting at the table at Pizza Roma and talking about him.
The first time I ever saw the movie Labyrinth, we had every single kid who lived on our street at the house. One of our friends rode down my parents’ steep-as-hell driveway on his bike, and the chain popped at the bottom, and he actually went over the driveway and down the hill onto the sumac trees below. He cleaned up okay, then we all sat in the living room eating the five pounds of French fries my dad made and watching Labyrinth together.
Years later, when I was in college, my best friend and I used to watch that movie over and over, dancing together every time “As the World Falls Down” came on.
These memories are still real. The events in these memories still happened. They did not disappear, just because Bowie left the Earth.
I turned 21 in 2003. Back in those days, the place to be every Thursday night was 80s Night at The Upstage. On a good night, we got “Under Pressure.” On a great night, we could talk DJ EZ Lou into playing “China Girl.”
When Michael and I met, he didn’t have a car. He was broke as hell; I was pretty much broke too, but I at least had a car to drive myself to work once a week. On our second date, we went to see a production of Equus on his college’s campus. He’d gotten free tickets through the drama school; I had to pick him up and drop him off, since, you know, the whole ‘no car’ thing. After the play, we drove back to his apartment, and before I dropped him off, he said, “Hey, come inside, I have a song I want to play for you.” Being the music addict I am and always have been, this was, of course, quite appealing to me. Michael’s room was in the attic; it was hot no matter the season because air just didn’t circulate up there, and he had this gigantic, really-ancient-seeming desktop computer with a great set of speakers, and the song he played for me was “Be My Wife”. We listened to the entire album Low on repeat that summer, mostly in my car, which had a CD player and was equipped for that sort of romantic thing.
We moved to Los Angeles together a year later and bought our first car. The name was a no-brainer. Our first car, a 2007 Subaru Impreza, was of course, Bowie.
And so it has been. David Bowie, whether he wanted to be, or not, was part of my life. His songs were part of the patchwork soundtrack that has woven across the moments of my 33+ years.
And now… Now what?
We still have the songs. Right now, if I was emotionally up to it, I could go into my living room and put on the Labyrinth DVD. I could sit down and imagine that I’m Sarah, and instead of saving my little brother, I’m going to give him up and take Jareth up on his offer to rule the goblin kingdom.
But right now, it doesn’t feel okay.
I am a strong proponent of the death positive movement. I don’t think that death is something we should shy away from. I don’t think it’s something we should hastily embrace, but when we are, like Bowie was, faced with a terminal diagnosis that means our moments on this planet are numbered, I think that we should take these final days, weeks, or months, and go out on our own terms. Finish off the bucket list. Prepare our goodbyes. Plan for a final farewell that embodies who we were as humans, who we will be as stardust.
Bowie did this. He gave us the final album. He gave us clues, in the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus.” He kept his illness a secret until he was gone, never let us see him suffer, never let us believe that he was unwell or anything less than the immortal being we all believed – no, not merely believed, but knew – him to be. In his death, as in his life, he gave us something to hold and feel and witness, something to make us think and believe and understand. This, by all accounts, is a perfect example of a Good Death.
And I, so very much, am a believer in the Good Death.
So why does it hurt?
I remember being a kid in the late 1980s. I was not cool or popular. I did not fit in. People thought I was weird and nerdy. And I remember watching my idols on MTV: David Bowie, Adam Ant, Boy George, Robert Smith. I remember thinking, ‘these guys are weirdos too, and they’re FAMOUS!’ Turning on MTV in those days made me feel like, maybe, I had a shot. Maybe someday it was going to get better. The weirdos were going to win.
And now, twenty-something years later, I don’t know how I feel. I’m thirty-three, and I can’t say that I’m doing what I want to be doing. I can’t say that I’m where I thought I’d be at 33, all those years ago, watching MTV at my parents’ house. I still feel like a weirdo. A weirdo who has lost the chief of her weirdo clan.
The songs aren’t going anywhere. The albums I bought at Newbury Comics are still in my house. Friday night, we will go to Lava Lounge, and Sam will play Bowie songs, and I will dance and I will feel better for those moments. Soon, I will feel ready to watch Labyrinth again. And I will love it every bit as much as I loved it that night that Haz rode his bike over the hill.
But the world I’ve always known, for 33 years, is a world with Bowie in it. And it isn’t that world anymore. Yes, there are Bowie-things all around. Logically, I know this. I know that he left us in a way that is so poetic and perfect that I can only ever dream of leaving like that, someday. But there is still an emptiness that I feel today.
But the emptiness of a Bowie-less world today is nothing compared to the emptiness I would feel from a world that had always been Bowie-less. Yesterday, I had a number of friends reach out to me. They told me that when they heard the news, I was the first person they thought of. They knew how important Bowie was to me, and they knew I would be taking this hard. Several of these people, I haven’t heard from or seen in years. But they reached out to me to let me know they cared about me.
And so, even though I never even shared the same room as David Bowie, he and his music have had an impact on my life that I can’t even fully quantify. As the days and weeks go by, there will be more things that spring to mind. More memories. More songs that instantly transport me back to a moment in my past. Moments, later, that will become part of my future. And someday, those future events will become memories of the past.
We are only here for a short while. Each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter if we live to be thirty or a hundred or sixty-nine. It is a short while. What’s important is that we leave this earth a better place than it was the day we were dropped onto it.
David Bowie, thank you for doing exactly that. Thank you for letting me share this universe with you for 33 years. I hope I can leave behind some part of me someday the way that you left some part with me.