When David Bowie once commented on a mime piece he did early in his career, in which his character struggles to remove a false face, he noted “The papers made a big thing out of it . . . funny though, they didn’t mention anything about a mask.”
Would that it were, that the once-thought infinite joyride of David Bowie’s career never end. Fair then that he create until the end, blazing out forever with his incredible swan song, ★. While it’s typography may suggest an ending, a punctuation point, the defining feature of the Bowie oeuvre has forever been its ephemeral Ouroboros aping, never beginning or ending. Where an audience begins to wrap its psyche around a Bowie persona, it’s where that persona ends. And another begins. You’ll read a hundred different Bowie retrospectives that drop terms like “alien,” “otherworldly,” and “weird.” Those descriptions, while fair, give short shrift to Bowie’s most daring and lasting persona: a human being. Because just like all humanity, Bowie was a shapeshifter, morphing with every movement. Bowie as a comment on the human condition is how he should be best remembered.
Bowie finds you when you need him most
David Bowie has always hovered at the periphery of my 70s-rock fandom, “Lady Stardust” and “Heroes” slow-burning like rock and roll white noise. It wasn’t until I saw the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the MCA in Chicago that I fully began to buy into the Bowie mythos. It’s true–Bowie finds you when you need him most. Within a month, tragedy like never before hit my life. Low, Scary Monsters, and Hunky Dory soundtracked many a sleepless night. Even at the most difficult times, Bowie’s heartfelt commitment to every role struck a chord with me. Bowie came to mean as much to me as few other rock stars ever managed. Sometimes it really does take walking the long way around to get to the truth. A journey through Bowie’s discography will send you to every corner of his brain, and it’ll end right back in your heart.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my personal take among millions of others. Bowie represents so much to so many. His complete rejection of convention. His try-and-stop-me, devil may care attitude. These are the ethos we should be teaching our children, not this pop drivel–pop machines with pop machine minds. Creativity, a command of the intellectual, fearlessness, Bowie is all these things and more. And he inspires in us that same drive, that same capacity to expand our definitions of what “self” really is. He matters, matters more than any rock star ever could. Music is a medium through which these, his deeply vital, moving messages were conveyed.
But what else can be added to the story of Bowie that a hundred more articles won’t already cover? However, in my mind, with what space I’ve been given, I only ask that you remember first how Bowie’s story is a story of a person, first and foremost. Our lives are blips on the cosmic scale, yet we constantly reinvent ourselves every moment–lover, actor, friend, parent, teacher, student. We play all the roles. Bowie simply highlighted that its human nature to change and to be changing, constantly. He recognized that life is a journey, that you never truly arrive anywhere, just shift to the next thing. And in that way, Bowie has simply slipped into the next phase of what may be his greatest adventure yet. Because while it’s his many characters that have captured your attention over the years, the Ziggy Stardusts, the Alladdin Sanes, the Thin White Dukes, today the papers aren’t mentioning the masks. It’s Bowie, the man, they’re mentioning. Nothing more, nothing less.