I work up at 3 in the morning and checked the time on my phone. And there it was. David Bowie was dead. My brain raced to the new album I'd just listened to, brought to my attention by music writers and musicians I'd met via social media. The album, Blackstar, was pure Bowie, new and fresh, yet familiar. The music and lyrics were eerie, otherworldly, and seemed to be ruminations on mortality. I figured it was merely a commentary on being 69, not a farewell note. But suddenly everything made sense.
Truthfully, I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn't aware of David Bowie. I spun the heck out of Fame on 45 as a kid, which I imagine my dad purchased because he found Bowie's weirdness fascinating. Other than that, my knowledge of Bowie was from magazines and music reviews, since most of the radio listening in our house at the time was AM pop radio. All I really knew was that he was weird, possibly gay, and most certainly dangerous to good little girls and boys.
The first album I ever bought was Queen's The Game, which was followed by a Greatest Hits album that included their duet with Bowie, Under Pressure, which I also bought. Fast forward to Let's Dance. I remember my brother getting the cassette with Thriller and Police Synchronicity. All three albums came out at an insanely good period for music, and I swiped and played them all as often as I could. Listening to it this morning, I forgot how much I'd listened to the non-hits. Next I bought Tonight, his follow up, which was nowhere near as good or successful, but I played the hell out of it, and came to know and love the Beach Boys' God Only Knows through it. Then came Dancing in the Street, Bowie and Jagger's quickly tossed off fun duet with the insane video (so ridiculous it was shown in its entirety in an episode of Family Guy) that they released to benefit Live Aid. The video was featured in an ad for a local radio station and I remember my dad (who found MTV ridiculous) walking around singing the snippet in the same exaggerated form as the video. (see the clip attached) One day he said something, and my sixth sense knew he was going to sing the little piece of the song, so I immediately got in his face just like Bowie does to Jagger and we both sang "EVERYWHERE AROUND THE WORLD" at the same time. He reacted by collapsing with laughter, which sent me into hysterics.
In college I lost track of the new Bowie, preferring to jump in the stuff I'd missed, buying the hits collection, ChangesBowie at Newbury Comics and Ziggy Stardust and Young Americans at Tower Records in Boston (I can't remember yesterday, but I remember these) in one of my many monthly trips to buy CDs. I loved the music, but, I'm sad to say I drifted away from following his career.
While reflecting today, and wondering how I could help my daughter understand what Bowie meant, it dawned on me that Bowie was a guest star on my daughter's favorite cartoon, SpongeBob Squarepants. I read today that his daughter (only a year or two older than my own) was a huge SpongeBob fan. I told her when I got home that "one of SpongeBob's friends died today," and fumbling his character's name, she corrected me and said, "oh.... LRH (Lord Royal Highness). I'm sorry." I then said he was working on a SpongeBob Musical, which excited her and made her say "we have to go to Broadway."
In reflecting today, I realized that what really made me admire Bowie was that he wasn't afraid to be weird, different, or true to himself, even to the very end. And unlike so many of the musical geniuses I've loved over the year, there isn't a sense that he was a jerk or mean spirited. And I realized that he connected three generations of my family in moments of sheer joy.
Rest in peace, David Robert Jones, and thanks for the music.