The first song I heard on WFUV when I turned on the radio Monday morning was an intriguing cover by Rikki Lee Jones of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel”. I had never heard it before. It also struck me as odd to hear it THAT morning. Friday, January 8th had been Bowie’s 69th birthday, and also the release date of his 25th and latest album, Blackstar, so WFUV had featured his music and covers of his brilliant songs on FRIDAY. Why Monday – why TODAY? When I heard Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” come on next, I KNEW. I immediately ran to my iPhone to look at the news. Yes, as the world was discovering on Monday morning, David Bowie had died the night before.
What an amazing artist and person Bowie was! My first true crush, a genius, my hero. He sang songs that touched me deep inside, in places I wasn’t aware I possessed. I knew every word of his early canon.
I’ve written about Bowie numerous times already in this blog – see, in particular, “Some Thoughts About David Bowie”, 4/7/15. [BTW, the writer I cite in that article, Ben Yakas, has posted a superb retrospective piece on the Gothamist website: Ben Yakas, “Remembering David Bowie at the Speed of Light”, Gothamist, 1/11/16, http://gothamist.com/2016/01/11/remembering_david_bowie.php?utm_source=Gothamist+Daily&utm_campaign=1a1489916d-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73240544d8-1a1489916d-1315029.] I almost didn’t want to devote my blog post to him today, given the glut of tributes from EVERYONE lauding his legacy in far more poignant ways than I could ever hope to do. Bowie was universally revered and his influence widespread. But I feel like I have lost a cherished family member. He has been a part of my life since I was an impressionable pre-teen. I could write about nothing else.
It was a testament to his longevity and brilliance that he released an entirely new album on his 69th birthday, and he also just co-produced an Off-Broadway piece called Lazarus that garnered universally awe-struck reviews. I’m grateful that he lived long enough to see these projects completed. It is also now clear that they were intended to be Bowie’s “parting gifts” to those of us who loved him. Just look at some of the lyrics from his new album: “Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside”, from “Blackstar”, the opening track; from “Dollar Days,” “Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you/I’m trying to/I’m dying to” [“I’m dying TOO”?]; and perhaps the most moving lyric, from “Lazarus” (together with the hard-to-watch-but-impossible-to-look-away video):
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high, it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below
Ain’t that just like me?
In his inimitable fashion, Bowie has captured for posterity, to share with the rest of us, the final transformation in his changeling’s life.
Bowie is dead – long live Bowie.
We’ve lost so many of our generation’s best artists. Just a few come to mind immediately in connection with Bowie’s passing: Freddy Mercury (who of course sang the brilliant “Under Pressure” with Bowie); Elvis (who shared a birthday with Bowie); Stevie Ray Vaughan (who accompanied Bowie on his Let’s Dance tour); Lou Reed (Bowie’s idol and collaborator), John Lennon (whose son, Sean, considered Bowie his second father). There are the recent deaths of Lemmy Kilmister and Scott Weiland, two rock legends that lived probably longer than anyone might have predicted given their lifelong self-abuse, and the “27 Club” and other young musicians who killed themselves (by guns or drugs or otherwise) while just on the cusp of their potential fame – the list goes on and on, and it’s going to get even longer; the older we Boomers (yes, I’m a tail-end boomer) get, the more icons we will lose. It sucks to get old, man.
And yet some grizzled chestnuts keep pumping out quality material: Keith Richards (remarkably somehow still alive at 72), Paul McCartney, Elton John, Van Morrison, David Gilmour, Chrissie Hynde, Bowie’s good pal Iggy. Keep on going, guys. Go till you’re a HUNDRED. Outlive us all.
Of course, the music DOES live forever. Bach and Mozart were the rock star equivalents of their day and their music is appreciated and still played, daily and worldwide. The artists may die, but the music is immortal.
During the lunchtime hour from 12 to 1, WFUV features a “Mix Tape” listener-suggested playlist. Yesterday of course DJ Carmel Holt featured exclusively Bowie music. She chose to go chronologically, playing mostly his biggest hits as requested by his fans. I had proposed “Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed, which Bowie co-produced (with the late and sorely missed Mick Ronson) and on which he sings backing vocals, but given Carmel’s chosen format, it didn’t make the cut. I figured I’d try again today (Tuesday) and was pleasantly surprised to see that some OTHER listener, while asking for Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face”, also said “Nancy Lucas suggested Lou Reed Satellite of Love yesterday. Still sad.” I seconded her choice, and today Carmel played it. “Satellite’s gone up to the skies,” sings Lou. I shed a few tears hearing Bowie’s glistening tones on the background “bom-bom-bom”s. I like to imagine that Lou and David are dueting again somewhere on that soaring final chorus (with the magnificent Mick Ronson on piano!), making glorious music for the cosmos.