It’s rare that I begin a post with a quote from another medium, but the first paragraph of The New York Times’ Bowie obituary succinctly hits home the truth about the cultural significance of losing him:
David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday. -Jon Parelles, NYT
I hit play on Spotify this afternoon to listen to Blackstar for the first time. Last Friday, I spent the day listening to KEXP.org because the independent Seattle station played Bowie albums all day in honor of his birthday and the coinciding release of Blackstar.
I am not sure if Bowie had been insignificant to me until I attended the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last winter, or if the magnitude of his significance and influence on my life became apparent only during the fully realized installation of his life, work, and magic. As a poet, I am inclined to honor the latter, the homage to what permeates, to the patterns that are good.
What I remember first is riding in the backseat of my parents’ car in Central Massachusetts during the late 80s listening to Rock 102, listening to “Space Oddity,” watching the stars out the back window of my mother’s Grand Am, imagining I was somewhere in space, with the music, with the lull of a song that took even children whimsically out of this world. It was the song I always hoped I would hear on car rides.
I had not loved The Labyrinth. As a child, for me, it paled in comparison to The Dark Crystal, my Henson, puppet movie love, but I do remember the labyrinth dinstictly, and made reference to it in my January 2015 New Year’s blog because my back porch looked like the scene from The Labyrinth, a mental note I had made the day I moved in to that apartment.
In small ways, extended over time, Bowie impacted my life.
I am terrible at collecting albums or even following great musicians’ work in any historical or collectible form, so I was unfamiliar with many of Bowie’s albums prior to the MCA exhibit in Chicago. What enraptured me while walking through the exhibition was his brilliant marketing strategies, his understanding of human nature and mass culture, and his ability to capitalize and infatuate a generation (generations) of audiences, but not in an exploitive way. He exploited himself in varying creative performances, as both critic and contributor to culture, and that’s where his brilliance, his duality lies. His ability to be both/and, both consumer and magician.
KEXP played LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” during last Friday’s daylong Bowie tribute. I am prompted to listen to LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” as an interruption to Blackstar, a song I had not connected to Bowie until now, but listening I can hear a clear musical reference (even the video is a nod) to Bowie’s work.
David Bowie’s song “Nite Flights” sounds like the theme from Ghostbusters.
His song “Girls Love Me” on Blackstar reminds me of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch (“Where the fuck did Monday go?”).
I think so many people want to write about Bowie but they have nowhere to end. I don’t think it’s a matter of beginning. We know where we found him. I could talk about Bowie’s androgyny and my love for “Boys Keep Swinging,” which is the song I walked away loving most after the Bowie exhibition at the MCA. In 1979, Bowie was deconstructing sexism while dressing in drag in a music video. I could write an essay about that alone.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what prompted me to buy the magnet depicted below. I almost never buy tokens from art exhibitions and I couldn’t even pin what was most significant about it at the time, but I wanted one. It’s been on my fridge since December 2014, always to the top right corner of the freezer door. I almost sent it to my dad, but I couldn’t figure out why he would love Bowie or what he would need this magnet for.
And that’s Bowie’s magic. We don’t need a reason. We need magic.
Thank you, David Bowie, for the magic.