I talk a lot off and on about influences, and there will be more of that to come this week – some sad, some not. But what do you do when you wake up and find out that THE influence, the major creative force that inspired you to do what you do, is gone?
David Bowie isn’t just a celebrity. People would still be mourning, but it’s more than that. He’s touched so many people who felt excluded, whether because of gender, sexuality, artistic identity, race, whatever…he made all us outsiders feel like there was a place to go. He had so much influence, not just in the music world, but in fashion, business, art, finance, literature…people wouldn’t be devastated just because he’s famous. It’s because somehow, he appealed to so many vastly different people and gave us a haven to interpret as we will. Something to strive for. Something to look up to.
I was aware of him as a little kid when he first introduced the animated short The Snowman (certain people are convinced I have a thing for blonds because of that), and was vaguely aware of him through my mom’s copy of Let’s Dance and then Labyrinth (which scared the crap out of me when I saw it because it just made me feel so much). It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school, though, that I needed him. I was in a situation where I was suddenly being told ‘yeah, okay, you try but you’re not good enough. You’re interested in strange stuff. You’re way too articulate. You’re just…” and on and on. I survived, but my confidence and spirit took a major blow. A dear friend of mine (we still talk to this day) introduced me to his music and I’ve never looked back. Let’s Dance and Earthling, then I spent money made gigging from classical music and local events to buy Ziggy and Station to Station. I bought part of the Berlin trilogy in Berlin while touring with a chamber choir in college, and had the unique experience of walking past the studio where a lot of it was recorded, seeing the places that inspired it during the day, then going back to the hostel and listening to the albums at night.
Suddenly in my life there was a person who was intelligent, interested in every aspect of theater, constantly changed to suit his whims and vision…and it worked. And kept working. I’m one of those people who honestly loves everything he’s put out. I have my preferences and I go back and forth at times, but what’s amazing is if you line everything up, it’s like an audio autobiography, truth under masks, emotion in music. You couldn’t have the things you like without everything in between. He evolved from his influences to his own genre and beyond.
It’s more than that, though. David Bowie taught me that I can have my influences but interpret them how I want. He taught me to be fearless – let’s be honest…he received major backlash for a lot of his choices and went about things anyway. I cannot even imagine…like thinking back on some of the balls it took to reinvent himself when things were going well with Ziggy, just because he felt like it? To move to Berlin and do music that no one wanted at the time? To come back from the eighties with Tin Machine then exquisite stuff like Buddha of Suburbia and on to Earthling and Next Day and Blackstar? (yes, I know I’m skipping) To progress in a way that made sense to him even though people were constantly judging, constantly holding everything up against stuff he did decades before? He taught me what it meant to be an artist. I’m still trying to find that courage.
He taught me to speak up for myself. That I can be multifaceted as a creative animal and it’s perfectly okay, that I don’t have to listen to those who try to pat me on the head or brush off my ideas. He made me realize that it’s possible to never stop learning, to be an artist but to have an eye for business, that it was okay to be stubborn and take myself in hand. That you don’t have to wave your beliefs on a banner to be heard, but you can be honest when asked. You can also change your mind after the fact and it’s no one’s business but yours.
He taught me to think outside the box, take a chance and try. To learn about every aspect of art and keep discovering other artists. When people get flabbergasted at how assertive or broad-thinking I can be…guess who I learned that from. He taught me it was okay to make mistakes and to have no regrets. To keep evolving in my beliefs and how I felt about life and the world around me. He also taught me to be kind, to value those I collaborate with, no matter for how long. To try to go a little beyond with people, but also not be walked on. He taught me to laugh at myself, because let’s face it, the past can be pretty damn hilarious. He made me believe that everyone can find love in different places at different times…and just when you think that’s it, there can be something amazing and beautiful and permanent.
He’s now taught me what it truly means to be an artist, to have the courage to go through until the end, exploring, eyes open, using what you can until you can’t anymore.
He was a role model, a beacon for so many of us who up to the point of his discovery felt adrift. He was creating right up until the end…that kind of fearlessness is what people say they want, but very few can actualize. As a woman, I can’t tell you how important it is to have an example like that. I can only imagine how it’s like for others. It’s probably weird to some to say that this is the person that taught me how to become myself, but he wasn’t just a person. This is David Bowie we’re talking about.
He wasn’t just a crush, or a role model, an artist, an actor, or a celebrity, or the best show I’ve ever seen…when I say he was everything, I mean it. I’m devastated over someone I’ve never met and truly don’t know as a person. I’m very aware of that.
His family owns that part of him, and I offer them my most heartfelt condolences and support. It must be so hard to go through the loss of a loved one so publicly, especially when everyone has an opinion about them and also wants to be heard. I wish them nothing but love and healing and the privacy they request and deserve.
I’m also very aware that I’m not Bowie. No one is. No one will be. That legacy is all his own, but he’s also given this world an insane, beautiful, implausibly possible example. Right now, it’s time to grieve, but then…then all of us left-behind oddities have a choice. Do we keep pushing forward past fear and complacency to do our thing and honor our mentor? Do we crawl back in our shells and let the world slip back as it was? All of us, no matter what level we’re at or what we’re doing, can push a little more, be a little more ourselves, create a little harder.
That’s Bowie’s real legacy. He gave us the possible. He left behind his work, his public persona, and all that possibility. What we do with it, that’s strictly up to us.
I don’t like good-byes, and really, a good part of him isn’t going anywhere. Misfit teens are still going to discover him, we’re still going to remember that he was here. He is here.
Right now, though, I’m heartbroken.