As I write this, I’m listening to Bowie’s final album, Blackstar. Like all of his music, it is very much his own. Its lush jazz soundscapes are haunting and poignant, especially since, we now know, he intended it as a farewell to his fans. Damn, it’s powerful. It’s made me wipe my eyes more than once already.
I bought my first Bowie CD way back in 1996, Changes Bowie, a compilation album. It featured his hits up until Blue Jean. I fell in love with songs like Let’s Dance, Ashes to Sashes, Space Oddity, Heroes, and Changes. I played those songs over and over during a period of personal growth. My high school years were behind me, and Bowie’s music served as an introduction to a wider world. Through him I listened to other artists, other genres.
When he released Earthling in 1997, I was blown away. I wasn’t much for electronica at the time, and this album opened me up to that musical form. But more than that, Bowie’s blistering take on drum ‘n bass and jungle elements jolted my ass. I loved the lyrics, Gail Ann Dorsey’s bass playing, but especially the guitar chops of Reeves Gabrels. That guy quickly became one of my favorite guitarists. I played this album from beginning to end countless times. And I still say the piano at the end of Dead Man Walking is sheer genius.
I bought his next album, Hours, as soon as it came out, and I fell in love with its melancholy songs. The opening track, Thursday’s Child, held extra special meaning for me, as I was born on a Thursday. I really felt those lyrics of loneliness. I feel them now, seventeen years later. That’s the power of Bowie’s craft. I was hooked.
As the years went by, I bought each new release, as well as Bowie’s older work. I got both Tin Machine albums; they are very underrated, and feature some of his most kick-ass rock pieces. The depth of his genius was beginning to sink in: he used his voice in so many ways, and he owned any genre he dabbled in. Compare Under the God from the first Tin Machine album with Fantastic Voyage from The Lodger record, or Win from Young Americans. The vocal stylings, the delivery, the ambiance—all are very distinct from the other. The man could do anything; he was the ultimate artistic chameleon that changed colors to his own whim, not that of others.
I was sad when Bowie semi-retired after a heart attack in 2004. This sounds selfish, but it was like learning I’d never receive any more letters from a cherished friend. But I respected his decision, and continued to explore albums like Black Tie White Noise, Outside, Hunky Dory, and Tonight. His 2003 album, Reality, though I found it too stripped down upon its initial release, eventually became quite a favorite: I’d often find myself humming Fall Dog Bombs the Moon, or Bring Me the Disco King. Bowie’s melodies and lyrics were always at the back of my mind; I can’t tell you how many times Ashes to Ashes has entered my thoughts, or Heroes. His music was more than entertainment. It was a soundscape of life.
When he made a comeback with The Next Day in 2013, I was ecstatic. I mean, holy shit, we had new David Bowie songs! And the album did not disappoint. Where Are We Now, I’d Rather Be High, Dancing Out In Space—it was quality work from start to finish. Then there was talk of more albums, because Bowie wanted to focus on music. No tours, no interviews, just music. I was so damn excited.
When the announcement for his latest album, Blackstar, arrived last year, it came out of nowhere. I loved the title track immediately—it was surreal, enigmatic, catchy, and remained in my head up to the day the album came out earlier this year. 2016 looked to be awesome indeed.
And then, one night at work, I checked Twitter on my phone to see what was going on in the world. The small screen in my hand revealed a horrifying headline: David Bowie was dead.
I almost cried right there. I rapidly verified this awful tweet, this stab into my heart, by checking the rest of the internet and social media. Maybe it was some stupid hoax.
But no. The Disco King was no more.
He was the same age as my father, 69 years old. In so many ways, David Bowie was the father figure of my music world. Judging from the outpouring of grief from fans around the world, I’m not alone in that.
Bowie’s passing is the first celebrity death that has affected me this strongly. He was my constant companion, my friend, my champion against a world that was all too often cruel, dark, and empty. He, like so many other people have said, was a person that seemed to be from another world. A star from the firmament, sharing his light with us mortals.
I’m so glad his work will live on. His star will shine for so many others, for we need people like him. We need to see that light within ourselves, so we too can feel part of the heavens. We too can be heroes…if only for a day.
As I close this, I’m listening to The Last of the Dreamers, one of my favorite Bowie songs from the Hours album. Tears blur my screen, my keyboard. I wipe them away, to no avail. They catch the reflection of the light he left us, a tiny sparkle that resides in us all.
‘So it goes
Just a searcher
The last of the dreamers’
Thank you, my good friend.