I’ve read them all. None of the obituaries succeed. There is too much to say and too little space. Besides, in his ultimate subversion, David Bowie wrote his own.
Early on during my tenure at AP, I’d asked a superior editor if I could contribute to Bowie’s death “preparedness,” and was denied. I never asked again. I was so hurt at being shut down. Sure, I am as biased as they come, but I challenge anyone to find a rival then and now in the mainstream media who knows (and cares) more about the endless well of Bowie’s far-reaching breakthroughs in myriad forms of art. To call him a rock star is to call me a fan. I lose all humility when it comes to the prowess of my idol worship.
In retrospect, I’d be irate right now had I contributed to one of the endless “news” tributes that chronicle the life of a “chameleon,” using tired language that undermines Bowie’s tremendous impact not only on art, but culture transcending anything and everything that is “popular.” I shudder when I think about how far back America has stumbled since the 1970s when Bowie busted so many boundaries in gender, sexuality, art, and expression. It sickens me that we live in a world, a country, where so many people remain ignorantly homophobic and intolerant of those who dare to live life with an open, independent, and creative mind and spirit.
When my husband Mike woke me up this morning, leaning over with a gentle kiss, I felt a pang before he even uttered the words: “David Bowie died.” Mike knew he couldn’t add to those three words. He knew anything more would be less. You cannot define or relegate the loss of Bowie to a simple condolence. I leapt for my iPhone, knowing Mike would never lie to me about this, yet wishing he was somehow wrong.
Cancer claimed my father’s life in 2002. There is no greater evil than cancer, aside from the lack of humanity that fuels wars, or perpetuates social ills such as homophobia, racism, sexism, and lack of acceptance of “others.”
I could quote every Bowie song. I could recall every show I’ve seen on every tour since I was a young teenager. I’m grateful I saw his last. And I’m profoundly beholden to Mike for attaining highly-coveted tickets to Lazarus at New York Theatre Workshop this Friday. I suspect experiencing this musical will help with the mourning that began this morning. Mike gave up his time at the gym early this bitter cold New York morning, and laid down with our son Michael Alexander who woke up before 6 a.m. when he heard me cry. I took that time to grieve, poring over the stream of nearly identical obituaries, perhaps seeking some nugget that was new to me.
It occurred to me immediately as I listened over and over again to Blackstar that Bowie was speaking literally.
“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside”
My denial of what is so very obvious came to a staggering halt when Mike whispered those three words. Until early this morning, I’d been silently chanting “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar,” as a means of coping through repression. Bowie’s ultimate game-changer, to evoke repression after a lifetime of freeing us all from the constraints of social and artistic norms.
Besides Mike’s tender delivery of harsh reality, and a steady stream of calls, texts, and various messages from my mother and dear friends dating back to elementary school offering condolences, Facebook has been a source of extreme comfort. All my friendships developed over my formative years (from 5th grade through college) are intrinsic to the Bowie soundtrack that has carried me through the most intense emotional moments and episodes. Anyone who knows me knows that I “need” David Bowie’s words, voice, expansive body of work, attitude, and passion, to power through life’s tribulations, and “want” David Bowie to savor every joy and thrill. Every song, every album, has it’s place in my life and forever in my heart. Ziggy Stardust had always been my desert island survival kit, but now I might take Blackstar, knowing there is no greater comfort than to so elegantly capture your own demise and resurrect it as transformative art.
I won’t criticize what critics have said about the lyrics to “Lazarus” and the rest of the album, other than to point out that only (the deeply religious) Bowie can make these words ethereal.
"Look up here
I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen."
Something overcame me as Mike, Michael Alexander, and I walked past a small crowd of priests and parishioners spilling out of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in SoHo on Sunday. Raised in the Russian Orthodox faith by my deeply devout mother (and a Marxian and non-practicing until near death half-Ukrainian-half-Polish father), Mike and I were married in a Russian Orthodox church. “Heroes,” naturally, was our wedding song. I’ve since drifted from faith, as I am at odds with the social and political views of all major religions, but something enveloped me yesterday as we passed the church, and I pressed together my right thumb, index and middle fingers and blessed myself. “Oh, really?” scoffed Mike. He loathes that I’m superstitious. I felt a sudden and compelling sense of impending loss yesterday as we passed that church. Now I realize that loss belongs to the world.
“Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl”
The world is in danger, as it sinks further into the abyss of ignorance, a world forgetting the brave strides that Bowie made for all mankind by subverting any and every prevailing ideology that stands in the way of creative (and ultimately human) progress. Add to that a lack of cancer cures, and we are doomed.
Bowie left us with this:
“Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”
I’m afraid culture has left us without somebody else to take his place.
Image: One of many pop-up memorials throughout the city. This one outside Electric Lady Studios on W 8th St. Photo credit: Natasha Gural-Maiello (The original release of David Live was mixed at Electric Lady Studios, and is notable for containing no studio overdubs or re-recording “with the exception of several backing vocals due to loss of theatre mic contact.”)