David Bowie died this morning (Jan. 11th.) Like my dad, who also died around this time, Bowie died just a few days after his birthday. While I admired Bowie’s music, I wasn’t a die-hard fanatic, yet I found myself strangely saddened. Whether it was the memory of my own father’s passing around this time of year or just the knowledge that an era of extreme nonconformity–revolution, in fact–in the world of rock music has long since passed, I’m not sure. But the tears dropped out of my salty eyelids and clouded my vision as I drove along Main Street during rush hour on an already cloudy day.
Bowie opened the door for theatrical weirdness in pop music. Luckily, he started his career at a time when anti-establishment, nonconformist rebellious thought was the general ethos. Bowie’s oddness was viewed as intriguing and thought-provoking rather than thought of as disruptive (or terroristic–is that a real word?) to society at the time. Well, at least some people allowed Bowie’s weirdness and were entertained, even enthralled by it.
In the post world war era, many people were suspicious of authority figures, not so open to doing what they were told but more determined to think for themselves. Bowie’s creativity was born in the right time and place.
Not only did he exude intense charisma on stage–with and without the funky hair and makeup–so that he seemed to be talking directly to his audience, and it was obvious that he was passionate and sincere about his music and its message.
Yes, Bowie was a phenomenal singer with a powerful voice, but he was also an innovative songwriter. Vocalists often write beautiful melodies but Bowie also created interesting harmonies that didn’t fit the standard II-V-I mold. I just learned “I Would Be Your Slave” and was amazed by the beautiful and haunting harmonies. I wonder how Bowie went about writing his songs. Did he find a melody first then write chords to back it up or vice versa? I’m sure that, however he wrote, it was probably not a typical or normal method that he used.
Bowie’s odd, otherworldy Ziggy Stardust character emerged from an early tragedy in his life. Bowie’s half brother, Terry, was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, was institutionalized and later committed suicide. In fact, mental illness ran in Bowie’s family. This exposure to insanity, and the fear of being afflicted by it, gave Bowie an affinity for the odd and the alienated. If the insane are unwilling nonconformists, Bowie embraced the unconventional. He wasn’t like everyone else, and, also unlike most of us, he didn’t even try to be like everyone else. Like many successful people, Bowie created art from a tragedy that could have damaged him but inspired his work instead.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Bowie married Iman, who is not only of a different race but hailing from a different continent, Somalia, a poor country in Africa.
And Bowie used women musicians in his band, too. Yes, another deviation from the norm… –>
It’s okay to be different. In “I Would Be Your Slave,” Bowie sang:
“Do you laugh out loud at me?
No one else is free…”
Yes, I may be different, but I’m free, unlike everyone else who’s too afraid of being laughed at to take the risk of being authentic.
Be yourself, your own authentic self because, otherwise, I can’t get to know you and love you:
“Open up your heart to me,
Show me who you are,
And I would be your slave…”
David Bowie, you are sorely missed, not only by your family (of course!), but by all of us awkward, geeky, nonconformists seeking a way to risk the laughter, to open our hearts and show the world who we really are. I think I can truthfully say that we’ll never have another David Bowie. He truly was a unique person, and an innovative songwriter, vocalist and performer.
But then aren’t we all unique and creative in our own special ways? Each and every one of us is unique and odd somehow. Yet we try so hard to conform, to make other people think we’re the same as they are. We hide our true selves. We think there is a “normal” or a “right” way to do things and to be. David Bowie inspired us because he had the courage to show us who he really was–craziness and all–and for that, we loved him.
So rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. I guess I’ll never have a chance to meet you, not in this earthly plane anyway.
“Do you sleep in quietude?
Do you walk in peace?”
I hope so.