The surprising death of David Bowie has prompted thousands of tributes and appreciations from all sources. Rock critics, dads, and fellow musicians recounted their direct experiences of meeting Bowie, seeing him in concert, or even performing with him. I read these in wonder, contemplating how an artist more than 50 years older than me could still resonate so personally.
Bowie was someone who was always there for me. Played for me by my parents while I was young, he became one of the first artists I truly cared about. The first Bowie song I embraced as mine was “Life on Mars?”, the brilliant, haunting, and melancholy questioning sonnet. As an aspiring astronaut fascinated with outer space, I could not believe there was entire rock star dedicated to the planets, aliens, and stars. I was convinced Bowie and I were made for each other.
As I grew older, I began to see Bowie was not just made for me, but for everyone. Even though I was born nearly 30 years after his creative prime, Bowie still impacted the world I live in. I saw Facebook friends of all ages and interests use him as their cover photos, heard classmates and teachers discussing him together, and visited the places dedicated to him with thousands of other tourists. While staying in Europe for a summer, I made a pilgrimage to Trident Studios in London, where The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was recorded in 1971-1972, and Heddon Street, where the cover photo for the album was taken. A few weeks later, I was in Berlin when I discovered a Bowie retrospective show, curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum, was being exhibited in at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Central Berlin. In the exhibit, I stood among visitors of all ages and nationalities, but still felt connected to all those admiring the outfits and original lyrics of Bowie.
Bowie’s personas, though few of them were active during my lifetime, were always a comfort. Whether it be the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, or Ziggy Stardust himself, Bowie reminded us that we need not be bound by our past or present. He transcended all constructions of gender, sexuality, or simply reality. He could easily shed his role of bisexual alien, amoral aristocrat, romantic mime, or man who fell to Earth and be embraced as a new, reborn Bowie. His transformative ability is what speaks to everyone. It invites us all in. Bowie’s constant facades allowed us all to see the distinct complexities within him. He was an androgynous outsider, a flashy dancer, a troubled drug addict, a rock and roll obsessed London boy, and an inspiration to millions– all at once. Bowie makes us hope that we can, too, be all of these things and still be a legendary, award-winning rock icon. His labyrinthine life will continue to inspire all who encounter the great David Bowie.