Today the world mourns the loss of the giant. David Bowie passed away Sunday night from cancer just days after releasing an album and celebrating his 69th birthday.
I’ve been a fan since I was old enough to understand music. The first record I bought was the Space Oddity 45 and today a 6′ x 5′ photograph of Ziggy Stardust dominates my living room. I guess I’m what you would call a superfan. I own all the music, have seen him in concert almost more times than I can count but today isn’t a gloomy day for me.
Simon Pegg summed up my feelings, tweeting, “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”
Today, in that spirit I choose to celebrate his life. Today I choose to look back at someone whose work affected me more than any other artist. Not just the songs—which are always great, occasionally challenging and frequently transcendent—but more his outlook on life and art. He taught me it was OK to walk my own path, to never rest on my laurels, to push even if it goes against the grain. When he sang “turn and face the strange,” in the song Changes it struck me like a thunderbolt. For anyone who ever felt like a misfit here was an artist who celebrated “the other.” More than any other of his lyrics, with those five words it was as if he gave me permission to look beyond my borders. That was a potent message when I was a teenager and remains one today.
Through his music, his actions and his lifestyle he embodied a way of thinking and it affected me on a cellular level. He revelled in the differences that set him apart from the rest of the pack… and so did I.
Listening to him I learned about literature, Bertolt Brecht, electronic music, The Elephant Man, fashion and much more. I studied the album covers and memorized the lyrics. They opened up exotic worlds for me but the biggest lesson I learned from my nascent adoration of David Bowie was a simple one: be yourself, find your own voice.
He transcended being a pop star or even a pop icon. Instead he was a cultural guiding light, the saviour of square pegs tired of being forced into round holes.
At least that’s how I view him.
I’m sure today as his children and wife grieve him they see him differently, as a father, husband, a man. My heart goes out to them for their loss, but for me, as I sit here writing this and listening to his latest album Blackstar, he is an inspiration, a person who never stopped pushing boundaries right up until the end. We should all be as lucky as David Bowie to have the kind of restless creative spirit it takes to live a life filled with ever shifting boundaries, exploration and challenges. A life lived like an extended art project was his gift to us. Today, as always, I am grateful for it.