Those who know me know that there is one musician, one artist, one creative person…and then there is everyone else. I think we all have one particular influence that burns into our lives and helps us realize what all is possible.
For me, that person is David Bowie.
I realize that he’s that way for many people for various reasons. I also realize it’s probably strange for a Mid-America chick who had a somewhat-sheltered youth would embrace him as an artist. It’s a long story, but I’ll keep it bloggable.
I was in my senior year of high school and due to various circumstances, I was having an artistic meltdown. I didn’t feel at home with the drama kids, I wasn’t welcome by the musical theatre crowd, I realized that while I loved classical music I was also burning out on it. I was fast learning that I had a LOT of interests: performing, puppetry, stories and storytelling, writing, making stuff…plus, my version of performance art was not the nineties-era stand still with a microphone type singing, or the stand on the X and do your little monologue for the talent show kind of deal.
To put it mildly, I felt like a freak of nature. I began to wonder if I should start looking at changing my entire life plan, since there seemed to be no one else remotely like me in the world who had succeeded. The people around me embraced people who did one thing and were pretty good at it. I will also admit that I’ve never been one that physically fits a certain mold, either, and back then I was still in my phase of being hit with every awkward stick in the store (Truth be told, some days it still feels like I’m in that phase, though I’ve been told I’ve left it long behind.)
School and social circumstances didn’t make things any easier, so I was going through my days on autopilot, doing what I could to keep my grades up and keep my head above water. And then my best friend started introducing me to her music.
Oh, she was sneaky. She gave me the Labyrinth soundtrack for a road trip I was taking over spring break. She knew I was a fantasy nut and loved a good story. Plus, his tunes on that are so singable they’re inescapable. She made sure I heard bits of Let’s Dance, because each song had its own technique and characteristics, a habit I employed when doing my competition pieces. Next came Earthling, to show me what could be done with all sorts of resources, plus I had a weird quirk of being interested in commentary-type songs at the time. Yep…after that album I was gone, gone, gone (swing turn through reality, inch by inch…sorry, force of habit).
By time we were both in college, I was using my singing money to buy Ziggy Stardust and Station to Station. And when the madrigal group I was in toured Eastern Europe, I hit every record store on our tour and rounded out my collection with most of the rest of his discography up to that point. You can imagine the joy of anyone who offered to help me with my suitcase.
But it still begs the question…what was it about David Bowie that spoke to a quiet, awkward, uptight seventeen-year-old girl?
Hearing him sing was like a thunderbolt. Not only was he amazing at what he did, he knew how to get the results he wanted. He knew, more or less, what he was doing. He’s intelligent. He had a hand in every aspect: aural, visual, production, post-production, presentation. He made mistakes, but he learned from them. True, at the time some of his antics shook me up, but that was more or less because I had yet to really step out on my own and experience the world, myself. I’m much more simpatico with his no regrets attitude today, because I realize how important being that kind of self-forgiving is.
At the immediate time, his existence made me realize I wasn’t alone. I could be an oddball, and I could be a successful oddball. It may not be easy, but I didn’t have to conform to the views of everyone around me. I didn’t have to put myself in a box if I didn’t want to live there. I could change my mind as an artist, and do it with my head held high.
Sometimes I still forget these things. It’s why I listen to him frequently (sometimes more than others), it’s why I’ve studied all his different work. It’s not just a fan thing, really. It’s a learning experience, and it’s still a way of realizing that I’m not some random wacky artist wannabe in the crowd.