Remembering the Man Who Fell to Earth
The first time I ever saw that lithe, pale alien I was seven years old, gawking at my grandparents’ old trailer television as it blared scenes from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. I was simultaneously horrified and completely transfixed by the sight on screen. I remained totally still for the entire duration of that two-hour film, which is rather impressive (considering the eight times I have been diagnosed with ADHD since infancy). I could not look away from the way in which the impeccably dressed Goblin King commanded the attention of me and so many other children. His voice was like velvet, unlike anything my little ears had ever heard. He was strange, he was beautiful, and his character snatched disgruntled kids away from their middle class homes in the middle of the night, taking them to a place where endearing goblins danced in the greyish glitter of Escher-like landscapes.
By the time I was thirteen years old I knew all the words to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I drew pictures of his costumes, I watched the way that his dilated pupils burned holes through photos taken from theatrical performances, in which he mimed, played guitar, danced, howled, and kissed his guitar rather suggestively. He was insane. David Bowie seemed a total anomaly to my familiar landscape of decaying suburban homes and the depressing subject matter of droll, sanitized pop music blaring from the speakers of my parents’ cars. As a kid stumbling into my teenage years, I was always quiet and a borderline child hermit. I had no friends and I never fit in, but I was never sad because somewhere out there was a man who was strange like me and so many other strange teenagers. He sung songs to comfort us, he sung as if he himself had descended from outer space to unearth the absurdity of gender roles and modesty. He wore makeup and leotards and chandelier earrings. All one had to do was go home and put on their Aladdin Sane record to dance and find themselves in. I held close to his words, I had shirts with his name for every day of the week. I began playing in a band because of him. When I moved away from my parents at seventeen I abandoned their last name and took on my hero’s namesake. David Bowie, after smashing through all artistic, aesthetic, and musical boundaries in our society has been martyred as the patron saint of the young at heart and dispossessed. His death was an unspeakable blow to so many of us.
With a sullen, disassociated attitude toward the vacuous hole of media and pop culture, Bowie did not just reinvent his act and aesthetic multiple times. He himself reinvented pop music. His first full album, The Man Who Fell to Earth preludes a decade of hard rock and proto-metal, the guitar work and dark thematic imagery is astounding. The era of Ziggy Stardust depicts an apocalyptic, flamboyant time where Armageddon is near and surreal depictions of outer space materialize. Diamond Dogs envisioned the Orwellian empire with crunchy guitars. My personal favorite era is that of the Thin White Duke circa 1976, where a coked out and totally disillusioned King David concocts his Kraut-Rockesque, pre-industrial masterpiece Station to Station. His aesthetic was simple, a slicked back sherbet colored haircut and impeccably tailored suit. The music is dramatic, a rich orchestra of sampling and perfectly droning guitars. The album is indescribable. It was groundbreaking in the world of pop and rock music. He continued to make great music 40 years after Station to Station was released.
His final single, Lazarus, was released just two days before his death. Millions of his most adoring fans were confronted (quite viscerally) with the reality of death awaiting all of us. We saw an aging, ill man famous for his bright eyes covered in bandages with rivets over the sockets. He sings weakly, but the artistic vision he presents is flawless: A haggard woman hiding beneath a death bed, Bowie himself emerging from closets and decrepit rooms. There were rumors that he suffered multiple heart attacks during the production of the album Blackstar. The scene of our hero’s death is bleak, but the Biblical imagery of Lazarus is profound. He will rise again. David Bowie dedicated his entire existence to his art. He smashed through social stigmas to create sublime music. Although I and I’m sure thousands of people around the world are still in the clinically debilitating stages of grief, there is no time to wallow in the mud of Bowie’s passing. He was the most important musical icon of the generation. There are no words to describe his impact on society. He is immortal insofar as his art survives and continues to save so many people from this mostly bleak and hopeless culture. We must take it upon ourselves to honour his vision by carrying out our own bizarre visions. All we have is our art.