Is it silly to feel weighed down by the death of a person you’ve never even met? Silly or not – that feeling has been the most prominent feature this week, so far. David Bowie has been with me in one form or other since elementary school. I remember trading these little cards with friends in the school yard at recess, with photos depicting the celebrities of the day. I had a Ziggy Stardust card. I wasn’t yet familiar with his music, but I remember the striking appearance on the card. The music came later, and – as music goes – many of his albums bring very specific memories of certain passages in my life. Hunky Dory makes me think of skiing, Young Americans make me think of one group of friends, and Scary Monsters of yet another. And so on…
To hear the shocking news about his death on Monday morning brought on many feelings. For one thing, I was selfishly bummed that now I definitely will never get a chance to see him in concert. Upon learning about the release of Blackstar two days before his death – I admit that the cynic snark in me reared its ugly head, and for a split second, I thought what a brilliant marketing move that was. But that thought left as quickly as it came, when I saw the generous beauty in it. It made me reflect on if I had been in his shoes – how would I have broken such terrible news to adoring fans? (What business is it of ours anyway?) He could have just withdrawn and disappeared, (most probably would have) but instead he had both the courtesy and the courage to say goodbye. (Which is how it will likely be interpreted, even if the impetus of its creation was probably more his own, personal way of dealing with the inevitable, than a gesture.) I haven’t heard the album yet – oddly, I’m both dreading and looking forward to it – at the same time. When I thought of the whirlwind of emotions that must have streamed through his mind and body when he learned he was dying, and how he managed to channel that into the creative expression of yet another album, I was in wide-eyed, jaw-dropping awe.
Isn’t it weird that when someone famous dies, somehow their lives suddenly become really interesting? I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from David Bowie’s work for about 4/5 of my life, and all this time, I essentially just took him for granted. I didn’t really know much about the man himself. Well, I guess I still don’t, but over the past few days, I have read and listened to quite a lot about him. My favorite so far, was Terri Gross’ interview with him on NPR’s Fresh Air. His grounded sense of humor made me laugh, and then – instantly – I felt so sad for his family for their immense loss. Death is always worse for the people left living. Like just about everyone else, I suppose, I saw his son’s tweet – saying that he’ll be offline for a while. And Iman’s beautiful quote, saying something about not valuing the moment until it becomes a memory. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to see the death of your loved one as “trending” on Facebook! And, I’m as guilty as anyone in elevating the tragedy to that position. In my anonymous, stranger capacity, I’m sending them love and healing thoughts – even if it really is none of my business. In reality they are engulfed in hurt, and probably just want the white noise of all of our faceless sympathies to go away.
In the greenhouse, we’ve played a lot of Bowie in the past few weeks. Probably just because it’s great music, but maybe it was a premonition of sorts. Can’t help but wonder – the timing was certainly oddly spooky. And I marvel at the amount of control we humans can have over our last days. He finished his new album – then he was ready to leave. I’m glad I got to be his contemporary, and I’m sorry we won’t continue to grow old together. As old rockers go, he was certainly going about it gracefully. I grieve that his life and his prodigious creativity was cut way too short – he was, and remains, an inspiration. Rest in Peace, Mr. Jones, and thank you for the gift. I will continue to enjoy it until it’s my turn.