Sunday, January 10, 2016

R.I.P. David Bowie

We woke up to the news that David Bowie has died, but that is incorrect. How could that be? David Bowie never existed. Ziggy Stardust never existed. Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, Major Tom, Jack Celliers and Jareth never existed. They were never real, they were never made of flesh and blood. They were made of dreams, the dreams of one David Jones. And that much is true: David Jones is no more.

Those dreams shaped popular culture like few others did. Perhaps only the Beatles had such an impact. Not only on music, but film, fashion. He even helped redefine or reshape gender. The intrinsic state of existing, of living life this way or another. He blurred the lines. Defied nature itself and invented a new being. Man, woman, human, dog, alien life form. Some people make art. Some people turn their lives into a work of art. He took it further: he was art.

All at once cerebral and animal, intellectual and instinctive, erudite and vulgar, avant-garde and popular, abstract and concrete, conceptual and natural, he reconciled every contradiction and delivered every promise, even the ones he didn’t make. One of his many talents was knowing how to surround himself: Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Earl Slick, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Reeves Gabrels, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp… And that’s just the guitarists.

Yet his crowning achievement will always be a handful of silly pop songs he recorded while playing dress-up with his mates back when he was barely out of childhood. There’s nothing wrong with that. He fancied himself a poet, and he was. He fancied himself an artist, and he was. But at the end of the day, what defines him is a loud guitar, a snarling vocal line, an outrageous stage outfit and an attitude.  Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am! Suffragette City, Rebel Rebel, Jean Genie, Moonage Daydream… As vital as and as pioneering as Johnny B. Goode, Not Fade Away, Love Me Do, Blowin’ in the Wind and Satisfaction.

I only saw him perform twice. It was toward the end of his career. I was born too late, you see. If you squinted he still looked like an exuberant teenager. Weird to think my kids will grow up in a world without him. He will be to them what John Lennon was to me: a contemporary legend who happens to be dead. But how can Bowie be dead? How can Miles Davis or Picasso be dead when their work is still so alive and influential and engrained into the collective unconscious? They’re not. Elvis is just as alive as he’s ever been, and so is Bowie. And the idea of Elvis and the idea of Bowie transcend their mortal coils and even if they had not existed and even if they had not recorded those amazing era-defining songs they’d still be more alive than a lot of real people will ever be.

Let’s get used to all of our awesome rock heroes dying. The ones that didn’t overdose at the age of 27 are now dying of old age. Next up will be Keith Richards. And Paul McCartney. Pete Townshend thankfully got old before he died but he will die also. Meanwhile Bachar Al Assad, Jean-Marie Le Pen and Morrissey are still breathing. There’s no justice.

I wonder what dying Bowie thought hen he saw what happened at the Bataclan in November? Just like I wonder what George Harrison thought of the world he was leaving behind a couple of months after the Twin Towers collapsed…

Even after he had effectively retired (until his surprise 2013 comeback, which now takes a poignant significance) he never stopped being relevant. That’s because he was never current: he was always ahead of his time. Trailblazer. Legend. Extra-terrestrial. Is there life on Mars? Probably not. And life on Earth just got a little duller.

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