As we emerge from a miserable start to 2016, TT3’s Triality Lens gives a fitting farewell to David Bowie, just one of our tragic losses last month. His article reminds us that it’s not only the popular connection these artists have with us, but it is also the personal, the private, the ever so intimate.
I must have been about 8 years old when I found them. My dad had been all moved out for a couple of years by then, and mom, my sister and I were living in a doublewide trailer in Westminster, CA. Mom had a small record player, and she kept two boxes of singles — one red and white, the other blue and white — in her closet, but there were a few other long playing records in a cupboard under the tiny color TV in the living room. Some of those records were moms, and they were fascinating in their own right: pure Motown R&B and pop from the mid to late 1960’s, a handful of soundtrack recordings, the odd “Air Supply” record, and these: stuff my old man had left behind when they split.
Most of it was junk, honestly, but there was a hidden gem, stashed in with the rest: Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. I must have played the first song 100 times before I ever even listened to the rest of the albums first side. A lot of people speak about Bowie’s image and the deliberate public image he concocted for his characters. I was blissfully immune to all that, as my Bowie record came with a paper sleeve only. It would be many years before I saw any of his faces. There was, however, something magical in the way he turned a song. It spoke to me directly. Not in terms of gender or image, but in the way he layered his instruments in the recordings, the cadence of syllables in his strange lyrics, or the desperate, aching, over-the-top way he sometimes delivered his vocal performances. I had, of course, heard the Beatles by that point, and even the more psychedelic side of the Beach Boys. But this was something else entirely. This was rock n roll stripped of restraint in a way I barely understood. It’s no secret: that day completely changed the course of my life.
I’m quite a bit older now, and surprised to find myself alive in a world without David Bowie. I’m not entirely delusional, of course, but I just never imaged he could die. I’ve heard a lot of people say that over the past couple of weeks. In fact, even as I type it, it feels fake. Cheap even. Of course people die. That much is true for all of us. Space Oddity is far in the rear-view mirror at this point; everything Bowie seemed to predict about the future is either here already in some form or floats on the bubble of maybe soon anyway. It’s not all wine and roses, of course, and never was. Bowie’s spaced-out future always held up a goblin mask, even as it invoked inevitable progress. That’s what made it fun. Bowie seemed to herald a golden age of sexy sci-fi confusion and information overload. Generations of innovators made certain to follow up, and now our astral-nets are saturated with diamond dogs. In my twenties I imagined he found it all quite charming. In my mid 40’s I understand why he seemed to pull back from it all, just a little, after 2001.
There is something odd going on in the world, and it has been coming on for centuries. Our enlightenment created a burning need for innovation and industrialization, but it also created the fallout. Every day, we billions of Earthlings go about our business, earning tokens we trade for our water. The rhythm of our commoditized longings punctuate our existence and make us pop, but — ultimately, leaves us cold and disconnected from one another. Our urge to be moderns is so deeply ingrained, we can’t even imagine a world where progress isn’t measured in what we sell, or — failing that — in who we idolize because they sell. Into that particular world, fell the starman, the space boy, Major Tom. His characters leapt off his records and out of their roles because he willed it to be so. Maybe that was a trick he picked up from the Golden Dawn?
I don’t have it in me to grace you with a comprehensive review of Bowie’s work. Too much of it is still raw. I know his death has left me a little emptier, but that realization has made me a little bit stronger too. Each of us, including David Robert Jones, are allotted a tiny spark, and just enough time to stoke our flame. How we choose to live privately isn’t “just as important” as who we pretend to be online, –they are one in the same. If our private lives are to have any meaning, they must resonate to a compelling, external beat. And we borrow energy from our private selves to play our roles in the world outside of it. Assigned, created or otherwise.
I have no idea what the future will bring for any of us. Everywhere is corruption, inequality, and war, or the promise of one around the corner. Juxtaposed over the top of the violence is a strong urge to progress, to grow, to change. There are forces arrayed against us. Some of them even have names. It is part of being modern to fetishize our alienation. David Bowie articulated that fascination for many of us, and now he is gone. Most of us are lucky enough: we never actually knew him. For us? He’ll live forever in our stories and songs and in the particular way he fucked the camera with his face. No matter which mask he held up, or whose shirt he wore. Until we come up with a way to upload our heroes directly, that will probably have to do.