January 18, 2016
There are some instances in one's life when you never forget where you were when you first heard a particularly moving piece of music that completely changed your life forever. Although I've had a few of those moments, nothing can compare to the moment I heard "Lady Grinning Soul" for the first time. The moment that startling F# pounded through my headphones, I was hooked. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. It opened up an entire world of new possibilities, chord structures, timing, vocal phrasing, and musical elevation. The next day I went to my piano teachers asking for their help in understanding the musical analysis behind the chords, as I was unable to find sheet music. Was it a major-minor chord transition? A VII-I pattern? A continuous shift in the key? I was absolutely fascinated with this piece and how it made me feel emotionally. It was this song that made me question, what the hell else am I possibly missing here? "Lady Grinning Soul" opened up the world of David Bowie to me, and I will forever be grateful.
I perused Bowie's extensive catalogue and purchased several books on Bowie's song collection and biography. Although I later learned that Bowie never did anything else remotely similar to "Lady Grinning Soul," I had acquired what felt like an entire world of music that had been circling around my life that I never tapped into until then. For an entire year, all I listened to was Bowie. Diamond Dogs got me through exams. The Man Who Sold The World got me through many stress-induced sleepless nights. Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars inspired my Bowie-themed birthday party that year. Aladdin Sane was my travel music, and Hunky Dory became my heart and soul. Consequently it became the album my friends got sick of the quickest. Even the movie Labyrinth with all of its quirks ended up having a huge affect on my life, and my relationship with my awesome roomie. No matter how busy we are today, we still make time for Labyrinth. Although that year had its fair share of personal ups and downs, it still remains to be one of the brightest years of my life. It was the year I fell in love with David Bowie, and nothing has been the same since.
I was at work when I heard the news of his passing. It was 11:55am on January 11th. I had just gotten to the lunch room to finish my break, when I noticed the TV showing what was coming up on the 12:00 news. The caption read "Bowie Fans Say Thanks." I couldn't really hear the television because people were talking loudly, so I assumed people were praising his new album. After all, it had only come out two days prior. "Rocker David Bowie has died at the age of 69..." My heart started pounding and I felt incredibly cold. A pain in my stomach began to rise. It was becoming harder and harder to breathe. Was this really happening? It couldn't be! I had no idea he had cancer, or that his health had deteriorated as it had! I don't know how, but I managed to control myself while watching the news show fans mourning from around the world. It wasn't until I left the lunch room that I completely lost it. I hadn't even left the building and I was an absolute wreck! Tears were streaming down my face as I yelled the news into my phone after calling my boyfriend. "He can't die! He can't! What am I going to do?" The pain in my stomach worsened the more I spoke. I started finding it hard to walk to my car. The wind had been completely taken from my lungs, while my heart continued to race. I finally managed to get to my car and take several huge breaths. I turned on the radio to find they were playing "Ashes to Ashes." Somehow, the song calmed me. I was hearing his voice, so things must be okay.
After pulling myself together for the ride home, I crashed into complete hysterics in my boyfriend's arms. "He's gone...he's gone..." I choked. I looked over his shoulder and saw my huge Labyrinth poster on the wall behind him with a vinyl picture disc of "Life on Mars" slightly below it. To my left were two other David Bowie posters, one from the "Rebel Rebel" Top of the Pops music video and the other being the album cover for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I broke down all over again. I walked over to my cat, who was looking at me with great concern. I picked him up and started petting him, grasping for comfort. "Oh Ziggy" I sobbed...Ziggy...the irony of the situation began to sink in. Even the dog is named after Lady Stardust. Throughout the years Bowie had helped me escape my problems, but there was no escaping this one - he was everywhere in my apartment.
After a while I started analysing the whole situation. Why was I this upset over the death of someone I never met or even saw in real life? Why did his death seem so personal? Perhaps it is because I am a musician. Music seems to be the art form that I appreciate most, and a form of communication that a value highly. It's what I study, it's what I've built my entire life around, and it has a huge impact on how I view the world. I think a lot of times, when celebrities perform their craft, a lot of it is fake, or moulded to the likes of someone else, rather than themselves. But David Bowie was different. Even though his characters and personas may have been fictional, you could tell when you listened to his music that it wasn't fiction. His music really was him. This was proven when I went to see David Bowie Is back in 2013 at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). They had a lot of his original hand-written lyrics unchanged and other articles like the in-depth clothing descriptions and stage drawings from Bowie. In 1997, Bowie appeared in the documentary Inspirations, by Michael Apted, and discussed the importance of an artist being true to oneself:
"Never play to the gallery…but you never learn that until much later on, I think. But never work for other people with what you do. Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. The other thing I would say is, if you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting."
He really was the creator and innovator of his images and music and it's how he chose to define himself. In a sense, by being familiar with his music and art, perhaps I really did get to know him. His art is how he defined himself, and ultimately that art defined me and millions of others as well. That's the beauty of Bowie. He defined eras, generations, art, culture, sexuality, music, life. He made us question ourselves, who and what we are as people and as individuals. What matters and what doesn't, what's right and wrong. He encouraged creativity, he played by his own rules...hell he MADE his own rules. He set people free. Free from limitations and standards. Free from the unknown and society's oppressions. Now he is free...just like the bluebird...ain't that just like him?
On the one week anniversary of Bowie's death, a couple of friends and I got together and celebrated the life and achievements of Bowie. We watched several Bowie music videos, interviews, and sketches, as well as Labyrinth, Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture, and The Man Who Fell To Earth. Although a week has passed since that unfortunate day, I still find it extremely hard to write about Bowie and all that he means to me. I still cannot watch the "Lazarus" video without weeping. What's somewhat comforting about all of this is that on some levels, nothing has changed. Although the book has now been closed on Bowie's catalogue (although probably not permanently), all of his work is still alive and accessible. He will continue to bring people together and inspire generations to come. We can still learn from his art, his poetry, his personas. We can still identify with his characters and words. We can still laugh at his jokes, and we can still look back and admire the incredible life that one person can live and strive towards a life full of meaning and truth.
Bowie was honest with his creativity. He didn't hold it back in fear of what others may think. He nurtured his creativity and allowed it to blossom for over 6 decades. He never gave up on himself, and neither should we. We need to continue to say what we need to say, and create rather than consume. Bowie is an extraordinary example of what can happen when we believe in ourselves and let ourselves be expressive. This is why he is loved so much: he taught us how to find ourselves. I'm still not over the fact that he's gone. In fact, I don't think I ever will be. A part of myself has died with him. So much of who I am is because of Bowie and his art. But although he is gone and our hearts remain heavy, we can find comfort in the fact that his music lives on, and he will never, ever be forgotten. Thank you for everything, David. I miss you so much.
Bowie's In Space
It's only forever...not long at all.
I would like to take a moment and thank Thomas C. He helped me find the words I simply could not grasp during this difficult time. Thank you. I love you.