Ok, folks. This post really IS about the death of David Bowie, but I hope you’ll indulge my taking a scenic, time machine route to his obituary.
On a hot Los Angeles, California summer night, July 10, 1989, having just read the New York Times obituary for the famous voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, I emerged from my room in the 3-bedroom apartment I shared with my two longest-standing friends from back in New Jersey, slowly walked down the hallway, through the living room, and into the dining area, where my friends Mike & Keith were seated, and the following, two-line exchange happened:
Me: I can’t believe Mel Blanc is gone.
Keith: I can’t believe he was here.
Ever since, for over 25 years, whenever someone dies who inspired, influenced, entertained, or was otherwise meaningful to us, either by email or text one of us sends the first line of that dialogue, and it’s a race to see who will first respond with the second line.
And while it may seem strange to crack a joke upon the loss of someone meaningful to us, it was never a reflection of a lack of caring. We’re from New Jersey. It’s how we deal with loss.
So, what does this have to do David Bowie?
Well, of all the people we have eulogized in this manner, Bowie comes the closest to someone who I really can’t believe was ever here, hence my delayed reaction.
Employing another anecdote, recently a Facebook friend posted this:
OK, been a while since I’ve done one of my random musical questions. This time I want to hear something that you think of as just utterly unique and off the beaten track … stuff where you hear it and just think, “What just happened?”
To me, THAT was David Bowie.
I had that reaction the first time I heard Space Oddity, Fame, or Heroes, or the entire The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album, and if it wasn’t the entire song, it was specific lyrics:
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go, and everything tastes right
You’ve torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can’t get enough, but enough ain’t the test
You’ve got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes
… or it was his constantly shifting appearance:
So yeah, to paraphrase my friend, What the fuck just happened?! This doesn’t sound or look like anything I’ve heard, read, or seen before!
David Bowie was the ultimate artist-musician. I might not have liked everything he did, but I never doubted that he was constantly evolving and striking out for new ground, and his massive success and critical acclaim speak for themselves.
That Bowie accomplished all that while boldly and unapologetically challenging deeply embedded, narrow, and rigid gender identities is nothing short of heroic. He made millions of people feel less alone for not fitting neatly into one of two prevailing and accepted gender stereotypes. An incredible gift.
So, thank you David Bowie, for all of the music and courage. Rest in peace.