Some time has passed since I first heard of the passing of David Bowie. It’s one of those “where were you?” moments that many of us will reflect upon in the not so near future when one of his songs is played at a party or his name pops up in a pub trivia quiz.
For some of you reading, it may have been a Facebook article or post made by a friend on social media; for others, a tribute on the radio. It was Jennifer Keyte’s matter-of-fact voice reading the daily headlines on the 6 o’clock news that left me reeling. At first, I thought I’d heard wrong and it wasn’t until the story was dissected about 5 minutes into the show that I was hit with the sobering weight of it all.
I’ve felt that feeling twice before. First, when Michael Jackson died and, secondly, when my grandmother passed away. Some may think it foolish that I can look at these experiences in the same light – being the death of a loved one and the passing of celebrities who definitely didn’t know I existed – let alone mention them in the same sentence but for someone whose life was so formidably changed by these icons, it’s difficult to push aside that heaviness in the pit of my stomach, the sinking of my heart and the lumpiness at the back of my throat before the tears begin to well when hearing of the death of an idol.
My family didn’t seem overly phased by the news so my first reaction was to turn to social media and post about it. I typed up a small tribute and posted one of my favourite pictures of David by Mario Testino on Facebook. It was nice to mourn with friends in this strange, not quite intimate way. I read hundreds of headlines and articles and statuses made by friends and celebrities alike in an attempt to grasp the situation but I still couldn’t grapple with what had just occurred.
I promptly offered to write an article of his passing for Radio Monash. I wanted to encapsulate the grandiose of the situation at hand. I would be struck by inspiration but when I started to write, it felt too impersonal. Too quipping, too clickbait.
So I’ve finally decided to – more or less – write about David Bowie’s profound impact on my life as a musician and more so, a young adult attempting to figure herself out in this crazy ol’ world we live in.
I’ll always remember that feeling when I first heard the song Heroes. Like I could accomplish anything or what I imagine driving a convertible on an open road with the top down and hair blowing in the wind would feel like. It was an overwhelming sense of connectedness and weightlessness. Most of Bowie’s songs seemed to have that affect on me; like I was floating toward the astral plane with not a fuck to be given.
I think many can (sadly) relate to the rhetoric of the gawkiness of adolescence and David Bowie being this equally as gawky yet confident and comfortable person that one day strode into our lives and taught us, in one way or another, to embrace the gawk and rough edges of our existence.
David Bowie isn’t just a pop icon; he is pop, and always will be. He is the eclectic nature of the genre. He is the interchanging sounds and varying influences of other styles of music. David Bowie left his print on every conceivable period of music since his debut; from glam to funk to industrialist to new wave. Everything that we hear is in some way owing to Bowie in some way, shape or form.
He embodied the very notion of reinvention on an artist’s own terms. Many have tried and failed while those who have succeeded haven’t quite experienced the constant and overwhelming success that he has.
He was the king of collaboration and managed to bring out the best of every artist. Who doesn’t love a bit of Under Pressure or Dancing in the Street and it’s ever-so-dorky music video?
His earlier performance art, specifically his gender defying personas encouraged a generation to personalise and interpret their own gender and sexuality. From gay, to bisexual, to “closet heterosexual”, he was one of the first LGBT artists to achieve tremendous success despite overwhelming criticism at the time.
His legacy and ability to push boundaries can’t quite be quantified in words but if you think of any aspect of popular culture – from film to fashion – David Bowie has somehow left his mark and changed it for the better. And despite all the glitz and glamour, he was just a genuine bloke who wanted to make the world a better place.
It wasn’t just the music and smiles he put on peoples’ faces whilst performing; he very much created a bridge between music and philanthropy from his work with charities such as Save the Children to his influence on the education of HIV/AIDs prevention and one can only love him so much more for that.
The music video for Let’s Dance rings true to his clever and unique way of bringing light to issues from all around the world, in this instance, the representation of Australian Indigenous youth in popular culture. He managed to kick the cynical view that art can do no tangible good out of me and reinstated my faith in the importance of storytelling in whatever form it may take.
But above all, a wife has lost her husband, and children their father. I recall a few days prior, upon the release of Blackstar, Iman posting pictures of David on Instagram throughout his career and writing gushing captions of her husband’s achievements. It’s only now that the pieces of the puzzle have fit together and the far more sobering reason for her posting is revealed. Iman and David had one of the longest-lasting relationships under the public eye and they have achieved so much philanthropic good together, which has only inspired me further to be a better friend a friend and partner.
And while some parts of the internet haven’t quite been as compassionate upon hearing the news of his death, pulling out unfounded receipts of accusations of rape and pedophilia that were never proven, the overwhelming response to his passing from around the world is a testament to the goodness of human nature and I’m so happy that we’ve been able to celebrate his life while mourning his death with thanks to platforms such as social media.
I doubt any amount of mourning will take away this niggling sadness I now feel but I’m so grateful that he is at peace, wherever that may be.
So thank you Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust but above all, David Jones for graciously being yourself and letting this music geek know that she’s quite all right just the way she is.