There’s not much I can add to all the words spent on the passing of David Bowie. I don’t have a charming anecdote about how I picked up a used LP of Ziggy Stardust in my teens and how it changed my life. Bowie was always in the background for me, almost taken for granted. I knew him first from the pop hits in the ’80s and only later discovered the gender-twisting, fantastically strange stuff from his early years. The more I listen the more he feels relevant. Especially all those masks he put on–Ziggy, The Thin White Duke, the aged visionary in Black Star– Bowie taught us that our identities are fluid and illusory, so why not be whoever the fuck you want?
And yeah, that voice.
I’ve been rediscovering Bowie in the past couple of years, introducing my daughters to his music– so really, I’ve come late to the party (as in many other areas of my life: one night stands, smoking pot, and creating art have only come to me in middle age). It’s as if I’m living my life backwards from that line in Young Americans: “We live for just these twenty years/Do we have to die for the fifty more?”
There’s a mental game I like to play, trying to imagine which people in history have done the most to increase the net total of human happiness. You could point to religion, but the blood-spattered conflicts inspired by most faiths outweigh the pleasures. I suppose scientists who’ve found vaccines for diseases should be high on the list, although you could argue they’ve done more to stop suffering than inspire real joy.
No, you have to turn to the arts–and specifically to music–to find the people who’ve really added to human happiness. Judging from the response to his death, Bowie was off the charts.
And no, he didn’t single-handedly bring down the Berlin Wall, but according to this article, he had more than a small part to play. And yes, he was a smart guy: his reading list of 75 books making the rounds of the web is fantastic (and anybody who likes Lawrence Welschler’s Mister Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder is all right by me).
And damn. The man could wear a suit.