It’s been nearly two weeks and I still can’t quite process the fact that David Bowie is no longer of this earth. I’ve listened to no one else since hearing the news and have indulged myself in more interviews from the late 70’s and early 80’s than I should admit to. But let’s just say it’s a lot and I’m not done.
My parents weren’t cool enough to be into Bowie. The record collection of my youth consisted of little more than The Pointer Sisters, The Cars and Huey Lewis and The News. Pitiful really. But what can you expect when your dad’s Woodstock story was “we hit really bad traffic, so we turned around and went home.” Unsurprisingly then, it wasn’t in my parents’ stacks where I first encountered the flame haired, porcelain skinned bony beauty.
It was late afternoon at a friend’s house and we were about ten-years-old. This friend’s name escapes me, though it could have been Stephanie. I remember I liked going there because her mom let us eat raw hotdogs and play with makeup. We were bouncing round the living room to MTV when her older sister came home and began to rummage through the records that lived behind the tinted glass doors and below the TV in the belly of the entertainment stand. One by one she pulled out different albums and carelessly tossed them like Frisbees behind her, landing at our dancing feet.
I remember first being fascinated with her. She wore a painfully cool faded denim jacket covered in coin sized buttons with sayings like “I Want My MTV” and “Like, totally”. In addition to these prophetic messages there were countless musicians’ faces tacked to the fabric on her shoulders and staring at me as I stared at her. My trance was broken by the corner of one of her recently rejected album covers hitting the bone of my shin. I was back in the room again and acutely aware of how starkly my pre-teen awkwardness contrasted with her potent teenage mystique.
Stephanie approached her sister in a huff for interrupting our jam session and they began to have one of those arguments only sisters can have. Throwing words at each other that didn’t mean anything because no one really had any reason to be upset. I decided to sit down on the spot and examine my assailant. I plopped to the floor and flipped over the album to the front cover and was confronted with the image of something, someone not quite human; more beautiful than Stephanie’s sister and more majestic than her jacket. I couldn’t figure out if I was looking at a girl or a boy and it didn’t matter. Not to me.
Discovering that portrait was like being gifted desire. Stephanie’s sister had hand-delivered to me the loss of innocence and I felt my heart break for that otherworldly, lightning-faced creature whilst also feeling something totally new and exciting stir in my belly and then slightly lower. I don’t recall much else of that day and once I’d left I was consumed with the desire to see that picture again, but this was before the Internet, so I had to use my imagination and then I used my hands.
David Bowie was the first person I ever wanted to touch me, long before I even knew what that meant. His image was the catalyst for self-discovery and the realization that my body was more than just a bag of organs, that it was vessel for pleasure. He was my first crush, my first love and the man on whom all my lovers have been modeled on – tall, thin, with teeth like a spilled box of Tic Tacs and later in life, an English accent. I suppose that’s why I haven’t yet recovered. So much of what I understand about myself was inspired by that first lust and the man who sparked it has burnt out.
When I hit high school the love of his music came, although by that time he’d all but retired himself. The fierce beauty I fantasized about as Aladdin Sane became the Thin White Duke and eventually settled into himself and I tell you I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite era or persona, as I love him so completely as a whole person. I will never feel as fucking empowered and indestructible as I do strutting down the street to Fame or Changes and rediscovering his early work has been a nostalgic privilege, but I’m finding stuff I’d never heard before as well and that’s really special. Since the announcement of his death, Blackstar has ripped my heart out with stubby fingers, so I need to heal awhile before I attempt that again.
For all the well-intentioned publications remembering him as a chameleon I have to disagree. Chameleons adapt to their environment, Bowie created his environment and then promptly abandoned it once it was fully realised. An emaciated, cocaine-addled mime, a glamazon, a German cabaret dandy, a slick suited soul serenader, an industrial machinist banging his fists mercilessly on the boundaries of gender, sexuality, race, music, art and what it is to be human and inhabiting this life. Bowie blurred those lines and bent those bars that kept our wild hearts contained for so long.
Now, with the overwhelming and irrational sensation that it’s too late, I am devouring anything associated with the man. I find that I fall in love and break my own heart each day anew, but it’s so worth it. I will feel this loss for a long time to come. The sweet, agonizing ache soothed by the balm of teeth chattering beats and frenetic guitar riffs like nails on chalkboards. Thank you for the music, for the films, and the art. For the completely mindfuckingly pure beauty and for the rock and roll you brought to the world. You are so fucking missed.
I hope you never feel like the foreign body in anyone’s milk, but if you ever do, I hope it’s his.