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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Time Takes A Cigarette...

I was 12 when my brother bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I think it was a Christmas gift for one of my older sisters. It doesn't matter whose it was, we five shared all of our albums. I remember staring at the strangely dressed figure on the cover, not able to take my eyes off of the provocatively posed, bleach blonde in the blue jumpsuit. Then my brother dropped the needle on Suffragette City, and Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Ma'am, my world opened up. 

Three years later my girlfriend and I signed up to participate in Junior Achievement. JA was a collaboration between local business people and the city to introduce principles of commerce to teenagers. There I meet a 15 year old guy from a tough neighborhood. He was a troubled kid from a messed up family who was mercilessly harassed at school. I liked him. He was weird and different and funny. And a little scary sometimes. And he LOOOOOOVED Bowie. 

Some weeks he'd come in all tense, nervous and out of whack. Adamant and angry over the fresh hell he faced at an unbearable high school where no tolerance was shown towards outsiders and no prisoners were taken. No matter how agitated he was, as soon as we'd start talking about Diamond Dogs, the bullshit was immediately washed away and he'd light up. Bowie was his lifesaver, his safety net, his life's blood. His connection to this flamboyant artist was real. This tender young lad needed Bowie to survive the way humans needed water. 

Music saves, my friend. 

Bowie, his outlandish, gender-bending personas and his music made it okay to be a misfit. By just being, he gave voice to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the outcast. He was a true original. An innovative musical master who always bent the rules, subverted the dominant paradigm and was elegant to the end. 

And what an ending, huh? He gifted the world a final album on his birthday knowing it would serve as his eulogy when he stepped off this mortal coil two days later. His life and death both played out on his own terms. It doesn't get any more poetic than that. 

To me, Bowie was the ultimate King of Cool, reinventing himself at precisely the right time. Chameleon to the bitter end. An artist at his very core, making his indelible mark on fashion, music, life. Admittedly, my adoration for his genius waxed and waned as I got older, and I cherry-picked through his later catalog. I may not have appreciated every contribution like a devotee, but the ones that resonated with me were magic. They still are. 

It's been a week since the Starman ascended to the heavens, and the void left by his passing is still very real. The outpouring of love, loss and tribute from around the globe continues. The universal loss is palatable.

(I am particularly fond of this clip. It shows his marvelous sense of humor.)

When I first read the shocking news of his death, I immediately thought of two people. The fragile misfit from JA and my musical love, Rhett Miller. Like many pre-teens who don't fit the social norm, he was brutalized at school. Discovering David Bowie saved Rhett's tumultuous young life and inspired him to pursue a life in music. For that, I am forever grateful. 

Wading through the copious essays and reflections, Mr. Miller's was the one I waited for in earnest. His was worth the wait. Like many, Bowie was his "North Star". I won't sully his work with a feeble attempt to summarize. I'll let you read his eloquent, heartfelt thoughts for yourself here

Rhett in his Bowie-shrined bedroom
not knowing his music would become as vital to his fans
as Bowie's was to him. 

Knowing you are not alone in your struggles navigating through the heaviness of being in your most vulnerable years is a precious gift. Music is that gift. Music doesn't judge. Music connects us like family. Whether he realized it or not, David Bowie was the saving arm reaching into the quicksand of adolescence for multitudes of fans.

Well done, sir.

For the time being, it seems only fitting to put his work on repeat, rewatch the Five Years documentary, and thank the Universe for his magnificent light.

Farewell Thin White Duke.


steward said...

Thanks a lot for such an amazing and nice post,.
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Murray said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. And thank you for your kind words. Bowie was a special creature.