Processing loss is different for everyone. The day David Bowie died, the world was filled with stirring tributes. Even I tried to sound off in a fumbling, ineloquent post on Facebook. It wasn’t good enough. Not for this man that meant so much to my life and love of music. Here is that formal attempt to do this man the justice he deserves, even if it’s just for my own satisfaction. It is not until now that I’ve felt capable of forming my overwhelming sadness into cogent thought.
My journey to discovering Bowie is somewhat different than most people. One would assume that being a passionate music lover and voracious consumer of all music that I would have discovered this towering icon early in life. Such was not the case. Most of my life he was this enigmatic figure hovering in the background. Of course I heard “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love” and songs from Labyrinth as a child of the 80s and thoroughly enjoyed his collaborations with Trent Reznor as a teen in the 90s. My sister even had a copy of The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974 in high school that I burnt a copy of and enjoyed and had listened to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on several occasions but never really explored much past that.
It wasn’t until the middle of his 10-year public hiatus that I came to truly appreciate the man’s full catalog. In a directionless time after college in my umpteenth dead-end job, I decided that since I was allowed to listen to my iPod while doing data entry it struck me that it was the perfect time to fully explore music I’d always meant to get around to but never had. Starting from the self-titled/Space Oddity album I worked my way forward. My mind was blown on a daily basis. Where had this been all my life?
This artist ticked all the right boxes for me: coherent album themes that create a singular experience, constantly changing sound that was never boring or stale and instead was exciting and fresh with every album, lyrics that worked on a surface level but if you stopped long enough to read them carefully another layer would reveal themselves, plus just damn good melodies you could sing along to. The sheer theatricality of all his music was also something I realized was sorely missing from most of the music I enjoyed. A singular artist with such a wealth of material that it felt like one could get lost in his other-worldly catalogue of music for years. It wasn’t hard to see his artistic DNA running through some of my favorite modern musicians either.
Every album was the auditory equivalent of an amazing book that sucks you in completely, painting vivid pictures in your mind as you take the role of the main character or at least exist in the story’s diagesis so completely that the real world falls away. Space Oddity and Hunky Dory found me sitting in a smoky café in the 60s feeling revolution in the air. In Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane I was in a sci-fi epic, witnessing the arrival of an extraterrestrial messiah in a raw and dangerous London. Diamond Dogs threw me in the gaping maw of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Station to Station ushered me into a shadowy realm of hip-shaking black magick and the Berlin trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger submerged me into the winter chill of Berlin, all black and white with hard shadow expressionist lighting. The next few months I practically listened to nothing else, giving myself completely to this newly discovered elder of god of rock and roll.
A frustrated young man in a depressed economy with very little exciting job prospects and not nearly enough creative outlet found a place he felt he could belong—in the strange and wonderful world of Bowie’s songs. These songs gave me an inner-strength and confidence I had forgotten I had. They opened my mind to so many creative possibilities in my writing and helped me in finally shrugging off caring about some status quo of what any person should be, reminding me that as soon as someone puts you in a box, immediately subvert their expectations and go somewhere new. On a more cathartic and basal level his music prompted innumerable drunken sing-alongs with friends and “Life on Mars” became my karaoke go-to. Unlike many, even his 90s and 2000s output I found to be enjoyable and easy to connect with. 1. Outside is an unappreciated work of artistry and Heathen is a stunning collection of tunes from beginning to end.
Life has changed in an uncountable number of ways since those lost times when Bowie was my only escape from a crushingly unpromising world. With a career and more details of adult life firmly in focus, Bowie has become an anchor of my listening preferences, with at least some listening to his catalogue on a weekly basis, with the album depending on the season and mood because he fortunately has an album for almost every nuance of the human experience. 2013’s The Next Day wasn’t a revelation, but it rocked hard and was so damn good considering he had been all-but-absent for a long time. It was thrilling that he had returned, making music that was arguably his best since the 1980s. The possibility of seeing him live was never going to materialize (which will always be a huge musical regret in my life), but at least he was back. With the ★ album on the horizon and the exciting and unique sounds of “★” the song and “Lazarus” in my ears it felt like the right time to come out of my self-imposed music review exile to delve into the exciting world of this bold new statement from such an important artist to both me and the world. And then he died, leaving me in shock.
According to Last.fm, I’ve listened to 458 Bowie songs in the last 30 days. It’s all I can do to cope with the loss of this artist. No musician since my own private discovery has had the impact on me that he has—it might even apply to before as well. It feels ingrained into the very fiber of my being at this point. The loss of this towering figure that always felt like he was a part of my life even when I wasn’t fully acquainted with his music can probably never be fully measured and has hit me in a way that no celebrity/musician death in my lifetime ever has. The world lost a true original this month. It’s hard not to think of these words that Nick Cave wrote for the song “Let The Bells Ring,” intended as a eulogy for Johnny Cash but also fittingly apply to Mr. Bowie.
“There are those of us not fit to tie the laces of your shoes must remain behind to testify through an elementary blues. So, let’s walk outside, the hour is late. Through your crumbs and scattered shells where the awed and the mediocre wait barely fit to ring the bells. Let the bells ring.”
I remain behind and shall testify to anyone who will listen about this amazing musician who has brought me countless hours of happiness and in some small way changed my life for the better.
Written by Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Associate Editor