I wasn't cutting edge enough to really get David Bowie when David Bowie first burst on the scene. His first album (David Bowie) was released in 1967, when I was four. I remember hearing the Beatles; I remember hearing pop music, when I was young, but David Bowie was not played in my mother's home. When Ziggy Stardust hit the scene, in 1972, I was almost 10. My life was upside down, trying to figure out my parent's separation and the loss of my father to a cross-country move, on my mother's part. He would die in 1973, without me having seen him again. When Ziggy burst on the scene, I was too young to buy my own albums, but I recognized creativity, shiny brilliance, and something special, all on my own. My mother was buying John Denver, who I also liked, but I was intrigued by this amazing new "space man."
To be honest, David Bowie scared me in his early years. He seemed to look out from posters and album covers and shake me -- mocking everything I knew. My world was so preppy and fine-tuned (aside from the internal mess of my home life), that his androgynous, vibrant persona and music was the antithesis of everything normal in my world... and that's what intrigued me. David Bowie let me know that not everyone was straight, and not everyone wore Kelly green and pink whales on their sweaters. David Bowie helped me imagine space in a shocking new way: you could drift away and be lost, but the music would be stellar. His bold hair, his make-up, his unbelievable clothes were part of his artistry, but they opened a new world to this sheltered girl, living in a sheltered New England town. David Bowie introduced me to the exquisite tapestry that life is -- he revealed all of the differences that the world I lived in tried so hard to hide.
Growing up in such a vanilla world, no one was gay, no one was bisexual; the boundaries were clear and not to be pushed. Listening to, seeing Bowie, however, I realized that there was a very different experience out there. His hair, his clothes, the way he looked at his audience, the way he moved his body, screamed: "Break out!" His music exuded sexuality and an edgy, clever vibrancy that made the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, and the other artists I listened to, pale. I loved their music, but Bowie pushed me to move beyond my safe world and see all the other options out there. In 1977 when David Bowie performed Little Drummer Boy on Bing Cosby's annual Christmas show (Cosby died one month after filming the show), I was blown away, as my horizons merged and expanded. While my mother coo'ed over Bing, I could not take my eyes off of Bowie. It was the start of a life long crush. The "Peace On Earth" portion, which David Bowie co-wrote, still gives me chills.
When I went off to college in Boston, I was ready to shed my clean, safe image and explore different colors. David Bowie represented a world of different! Bowie was my "gateway drug;" he led me to most of the music that I came to love, and which still defines so much of how I see myself: The Cure, Depeche Mode, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads. He oozed charisma and I couldn't look away. The summer I went to Australia, his song Little China Girl was huge. His voice was in my head and on the radio all summer. As I hitchhiked and explored being away from everything that was familiar, my cohorts and I lip synced "Oh baby, just you shut your mouth." A few years later, on my honeymoon, my husband and I watched the movie Labyrinth, which featured Bowie as Jareth the The Goblin King. It was directed by Jim Henson and produced by George Lucas- a collaboration which seemed unreal at the time. Bowie stole every scene he was in, and left so many of us wishing we could be spirited away too.
As a young mother living in Chicago, David Bowie continued to expand my world. On the fourth of July one year, the space shuttle was orbiting the city in time for the huge fire works display. The local alternative radio station played Space Oddity/Major Tom, and when Bowie's deep voice counted down, the astronauts greeted us live. It was one of the single most magical nights of my life-- seared in my memory, as I looked up at the black sky, and listened to David Bowie sing! Perhaps the memory holds more beauty--there were no smart phones, video cameras were bulky, but oh to have a recording of that. Ten years after it came out, we introduced Labyrinth to our children, and they still hold it dear and are able to sing along to Magic Dance. Even at young ages, they watched that "strange man" and couldn't take their eyes off of him.
I didn't know that David Bowie was sick; I wasn't paying attention. When a friend posted it, I was sure it was one more "David Bowie is dead" hoax. Like Betty White, Paul McCartney and others who are so big, such a part of our fabric, his death was reported semi-regularly on line, I dismissed it... for a minute. Sadly it was confirmed moments later, by the BBC. I hadn't seen Jimmy Fallon joke, last week, about the hauntingly beautiful video Lazarus that was released just days ago (the man used his own death for artistic expression!). If he was still aware, I imagine the brilliant artist laughed at Fallon's playfulness. Discussing his work with Bowie, Johan Renke, who directed the video for Lazarus, said: "One could only dream about collaborating with a mind like that; let alone twice. Intuitive, playful, mysterious and profound... I have no desire to do any more videos knowing the process never ever gets as formidable and fulfilling as this was. I've basically touched the sun."
David Bowie was beautiful in the most untraditional ways. I was drawn to his whimsy, his edges, his charisma, as much as I was to his piercing eyes and alluring smile. I've had a crush on him forever. When I heard that he'd died, I felt my chest tighten and I cried; I felt a thread of my own fabric pulled. It's a cliché that he will live on in his music, but I carry him in my heart for all the ways he expanded my world and my understanding that people came in so many colors. The world is an infinitely more interesting and diverse place, because David Bowie was in it. Music, art... my life, has lost a sparkling beacon.