Goodnight, Starman: Remembering David Bowie

David Bowie
David Bowie

David Bowie didn't seem like a man who would ever die, but rather go on forever-and-ever until he popped like a bubble or flamed out like a comet. Bowie was to me – and others like me who held his work as Pop scripture – a beacon, a prism, an avant-garde seal of approval. This wasn't just passive listening or a set of albums and shows – Bowie birthed a new world that touched on Burroughs, Rechy, Kubrick, Dylan, Czukay, Mackie, Brecht and beyond, without aping their sound and vision.

Bowie's body of work, when observed as a whole, is a tactile mash-up of influences and innovations. He dressed up rock n' roll in his image, something beyond masculine or feminine into something androgynous. With Bowie, even the simplest things – smoking the Gitantes he kept in his vest pocket during 1976's Station to Station tour; wearing a red windbreaker on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to promote Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) – were elegantly odd. He brought poetic intricacy to the ideas of a lonely space traveler missing his family (the subjects of "Space Oddity," "Ashes to Ashes," and the Off-Broadway musical Lazarus) and lovers kissing before the Berlin Wall ("Heroes").

With the Blackstar album, Bowie even made art from the cancer that felled him ("Blackstar" is a term for cancer lesions) and redefined the meaning of "graceful exit." Released on his birthday – January 8, just two days before his death on January 10 – Blackstar is a breathlessly brilliant achievement (and breathtakingly sad once its lyrics are decoded in the wake of his death), as great and guileless as any work in his catalog. As ill as he was, Bowie left us with something bold and audacious, something that spoke in an erudite fashion to the human condition with a sound (an altered form of jazz) he longed to play.

For my wife Reese and I – both Bowie devotees since our childhoods – he set a glittery yet grounded standard for how we look and how we live. On our wedding day, our first dance as husband and wife was to Bowie's sweeping version of "Wild is the Wind." Bowie gave me the honor of several face-to-face interviews during my career as a journalist, and gave Reese the highest compliment of her jewelry design career: when I presented him with pieces she made for him and his wife, Iman, Bowie observed, "She's not fucking about, is she?"

With Blackstar, Bowie earned his first ever Billboard No. 1 album. It's cool, of course, but too earthly an accolade. Having Belgium's MIRA Public Observatory give Bowie his own constellation in the shape of the lightning bolt from the cover of 1973's Aladdin Sane makes more sense. Made up of seven stars in the vicinity of Mars, it's a perfect honorarium for the Starman, and a lovely guidepost for those of us who will miss him most.

Photo by Jimmy King

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016