XRAY volunteers and DJs reflect on the significant impact of David Bowie.
(Photo by Stacey Atwell – All Rights Reserved)
As the Starman ascended, the world transformed its grief into love and gratitude for all he’d given us.
The night that the world learned of David Bowie’s death, I woke with a startle at 12:30. Moments later, my phone buzzed with a text. I read the horrible words “David Bowie died.” Photos of him flooded Instagram, it was true. I spent the next 3 hours in tears, his record “Live Santa Monica ’72“ pouring out from my speakers.
Bowie had been part of my life since age 10, when I’d first been transfixed by the androgynous creature that graced the cover of “Diamond Dogs,” and the music within. It was hard to imagine the universe without him.
As I finally drifted towards sleep, I became serenely aware of people around the world that were feeling as bereft as me. Fans in Japan, Brazil, South Africa, the UK. All of us reaching for beloved copies of “Ziggy,” “Lodger” and “Hunky Dory.”
Oddly, his death was not a total surprise to me. Earlier that weekend, I’d gone to the record store and picked up “Blackstar.” After several listens, one thing was painfully clear. This record was goodbye, a send off. I refused to admit it to myself. Instead I put the vinyl in heavy rotation, processing the somber lyrics, afraid of what they might mean.
In the days that followed his death, I was astounded at the phenomenal tributes to him. Covers of his songs were played by everyone from Madonna to subway buskers. Street art sprang up in the alleys of Sao Paulo. Church bells played Space Oddity in the Netherlands. As the Starman ascended, the world transformed its grief into love and gratitude for all he’d given us.
I haven’t stopped listening to him since the news came in, and I won’t. At least not until it’s my turn to join Major Tom.
We all love you, Starman.
The Thin White Duke returned to his home planet, and we’re all a little more boring, slightly stupider and just a bit less sexy for his loss.
He was a Space Alien, a Pansexual Heartthrob, and a Part-time Nerd. He was a coffee achiever who flirted with Fascist Imagery and a Cracked Actor. He’s survived by a supermodel, a son, a celebrity ex-wife famous only for being his ex-wife and, oddly enough, Iggy Pop.
But somewhere, always, a teenager listens to “Suffragette City” for the first time and rifles through Mom’s makeup kit and the world becomes just a little cooler, if only for that moment.
Because he was always constantly shifting and reinventing himself, did we all hope we could see a bit of our own secret selves inside one of his faces?
He seemed to intimately know us, and we loved him for that. But there’s a good chance that we didn’t really know him at all.
I was nine years old the first time I saw a picture of David Bowie and I thought he looked just like my mom. My older sister had the Ziggy Stardust poster on her bedroom wall and I found myself staring at it constantly. The sharp angles of his face and his bright orange hair were so familiar; the dewy red lightning bolt across his eye was severe and precise. I would drag my finger over the tiny pool above his collarbone expecting it to be a different texture than the rest of him.
Five years later I would use that poster to paint my face for Halloween, more aware of Ziggy Stardust as a piece of art than as a performer, or of David Bowie, for that matter, as the artist. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I followed the lead of my older siblings and listened to a Bowie album other than Ziggy Stardust. There was something distinctly consistent about each of the albums and yet each one was also so different. To me, it didn’t feel like David Bowie was emulating multiple identities, but rather exploring the same identity in different situations, different eras, and different planets. Maybe that was why each album carried a similar feeling; it was the same skeleton of a person singing the songs, but they were influenced and shaped by different environments. This never felt to me like a dedicated experiment in performance art. It felt more like a reflection of the human identity—or at least mine: sensitive to surroundings, unsure, and constantly changing. I think that’s why David Bowie’s death was such a blow to so many people…he became such a reflection of our condition that when he died, it was like a part of ourselves died too. As Carrie Brownstein put it, “It feels like we lost something elemental, like an entire color is gone.”
Brownstein, Carrie (Carrie_Rachel). “It feels like we lost something elemental, like an entire color is gone.” 11 Jan. 2016, 5:43 a.m. Tweet.
Bowie was a capital M Modernist. He was in the line of the Cubists, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Abstract Expressionists, and of course the Pop artists. A literary heir to Brecht, Genet (the “Jean Genie”, of course), Orwell, Ballard, Burroughs, and Modernist poets.
He adopted the cut-up method of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin (yes, they were Modernists). A synthesizer, an innovator, and a cultivator. He was very probably one of the last great Modernists.
Also, a great collaborator. The Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti, and all a fleet of brilliant musicians who still inform pop and avant garde music to this day. A fantastic producer: the gentleman who put Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” together, and who toured with Iggy as keyboardist on the tour that became the brilliant “Live TV Eye 1977”. The guy who shaped Lou Reed’s “Transformer”. Always taking chances: switching musicians off their primary instruments on “Lodger”, creating a genius work on that album as well as that record’s follow-up “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”, which directly took on, in dystopian terms, the rise of frightening right-wing politics in the US, the UK, and other parts of our small planet.
I will go on like the fanboy I am for a few sentences more. Bowie, like Elvis who shared his birthday, was a world changer. I have a very dear friend who is also an XRAY dj who insists that Bowie was nothing more than an appropriator (i.e., “thief”). Er, that is a profound misunderstanding of Bowie, his art, his career, his influence. I reckon that my friend and I will stage our public debate on this after some time has passed, but to misunderstand Bowie as a mere appropriator is a profound, if easy, mistake.
No Punk, New Wave, No Wave, whatever wave, Postpunk without Bowie. Late 20th and early 21st Century visual art, film, rock, pop, soul, hip-hop, and funk all owe great debts to this guy. He boosted the careers of many talents around him, plucked many from obscurity so that they could reside in our cultural center.
And in spite of his embodiment of Modernism’s cold, dark heart, he connected emotionally and profoundly with so many of us.
It was 1976 and I was a mere 7 years old when I heard the strains of a music unlike that I had ever heard before blasting from a neighbor kid’s house. This kid, by the way, was at least 7-8 years my senior, hated me, and often went out of his way to make me feel scared. As I heard a guitar destroy my entire universe, I hesitantly approached the kid’s open window and stood out of sight, listening intently to these sounds that I had never experienced before. Suddenly, a gruff voice shouted, “The fuck are you doing kid?” I looked up and there was my nemesis, glowering down at me from his window. I shot past my fear and decided that it was far more important that I know what was coming from those speakers. “What is that music?” I weakly asked. He shook his head, laughed, and said, “It’s David Bowie, you asshole. Get out of here.” I ran off, repeating the name in my head over and over until I reached my house and I could write it down. Surely I could convince my mother to buy me a David Bowie record for my next birthday. Cut to two days later when I was walking by the kids house AGAIN to hear the strains of what I later learned to be Prairie Rose by Roxy Music. Once again I paused to soak it in. Lost in the moment, I didn’t even notice that he had exited his house and was walking right towards me. Should I flee? Surely he would give chase. Should I stay? Surely he would kick my ass. As I pondered my wealth of options, he must have sensed my urge to flee. “C’mere kid,” he said sagely. The spit in my mouth evaporated. The blood in my head boiled. Surely I was about to meet my young end. Then, he reached out a hand that held a cassette tape. I hesitated. “Take it, shithead.” I nervously took it and read the spine which read, “Bowie- R+F of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” in blood red marker. “Go learn something new,” the newly minted teenager advised me. I ran off and threw the tape into my portable panasonic tape recorder (not a boombox, I didn’t get that until later), and sat, transfixed for the next 40 minutes to the album and the man who would mold the way I thought about music for the next 40 years. Thank you David Bowie, you made my obsession with music truly meaningful.