We were watching the news, nothing particularly remarkable, when the headline flashed across the bottom of the screen – BREAKING NEWS: DAVID BOWIE DEAD AGED 69. My jaw dropped and I felt all the blood rush into my head, hot and dizzying. I couldn’t process what I was seeing, immediately grasping at alternative explanations. It’s a hoax, he’s not dead, he’s just sick, it’s bad reporting, how could it be? I didn’t even know he was sick. Nathan grabbed my hand and said “I’m so sorry, honey” over and over. It was a horrible jolt, from a world where none of my beloved idols were in any immediate peril, to one where I had just lost my hero.
I have loved David Bowie for most of my life. Mum and Dad never really listened to him when I was little, so like most of my generation, my first experience of him was seeing Labyrinth. I was obsessed with that movie. I can’t count how many times I wished, with all my heart, that the goblin king would come and take all my little siblings away. I pranced around the garden in a frilly shirt and jeans reciting lines from the film, made grand plans to attend a masquerade ball in a real hedge maze (vetoed, because I was about 14). Slowly, I discovered the man behind Jareth, and his music. Low was a big part of the soundtrack of my teenage years, particularly the depression of 2003. I loved his costumes, his theatricality, his humour, his multidimensional melodies, his layered lyrics. I loved the way he evolved – so many artists languished in the wake of their seventies stardom and never released anything worthy again, but not David Bowie. His 2004 Reality tour was livestreamed around the world, which I attended with Dad. Even though I never got to see him perform live, I’m so grateful I got to be a part of that experience.
Bowie was never really on Nathan’s radar until I acquainted them. Now, I want Life on Mars? at my funeral and I’m tossing up which song I want at my wedding. Last year for our birthday, we went to the David Bowie Is exhibition while it was at ACMI, which was amazing. I was in awe the entire time, seeing scribblings of familiar lyrics and costumes that I had seen so many times in youtube clips. I loved it, but it made me sad. Even at the time, I wondered about the fact that all things must come to an end, and I have serious doubts about whether world, in its current state, is capable of producing this kind of revolutionary, broadly virtuosic person, of enough stamina to manage a fifty year output, of enough talent to influence so many aspects of culture apart from the one he directly participated in.
So, I’m pretty sad. Somebody on my facebook ranted that it was ridiculous that so many people were sad over David Bowie when they could direct that empathy to something ‘worthier’ like saving a child’s life. At first I didn’t care, but I get madder each time I think about it. Why does my childhood dog dying bring tears to my eyes so many years later, when dogs are put to sleep in shelters every day? Why do people feel sadder when their parent dies, compared with a stranger down the street? It’s so obvious that we care intensely about the people (and animals) that personally touched us, inspired us, helped us, taught us, were beloved by us. David Bowie was my idol, but his music will forever be an undeniable part of the emotional landscape of my life. That’s why I am sad, that’s why I will miss him, like a friend.