“Sam our Bowie is gone” read the text sent to me at 4:06am my time this morning on the east coast, which would’ve meant Sasha heard the news at 1:06am in San Francisco, just after she finished work last night at the tequila bar in the Castro. I looked at it sleepily, considered that perhaps she drunk-tweeted me her displeasure in reference to David Bowie’s latest album, Blackstar, released on Friday—also his 69th birthday—and thought she was being a bit rude. For the past five decades, Bowie has been an unconventional yet seminal artist, unflinchingly unique, unfailingly prolific, neglecting to follow an established formula of success while still somehow sublimating the vast array of instruments, sounds, genres, rhythms, fashions, personas and moods that sparked his interest. His art evolved non-linearly and never failed to titillate, shock and entertain, sometimes in equal measure.
When I fully woke and was able to grasp (i.e., Google) the tragedy of Bowie’s long battle with cancer and subsequent death, I reeled, along with the rest of the planet. Unfortunately I am no stranger to grief—I’ve lost many beloved family members over the past couple years and had just spent the previous day tearfully memorializing the deceased patriarch of our family. It seems strange then, to take to heart the death of people I never knew personally. But music plays a sweet or sorrowful soundtrack to all the most important moments of my life. As the shy only child of a single working mother, I found solace in music when I could not express my emotions or make sense of the world around me.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Bowie was a proud purveyor of platformed non-conformity at a time when I was desperately trying to figure out who I was (not that that’s changed). In the ‘90s Bowie’s music adopted a nihilistic, neo-industrial tone, which suited my exit from home and entry into college and adulthood (so to speak). Entering the 21st century, Bowie once again changed courses by incorporating live instruments and a minimalist approach. He also diversified greatly, creating soundtracks for video games, recording vocals for a Shrek 2 song, making a commercial with Snoop Dogg, and singing with Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio. This all made sense to me, as I switched my marine biology trajectory for life as a writer, moving from Maui to Oakland, and quickly becoming immersed in the cannabis industry and all its surreal workings. I imagine many of us have experienced similar phases of discord and reinventions up to this point. For my generation (X), more than any other musician or band, David Bowie travelled with us through time and space into the soulful cosmos of our manic modern existence. And what a gentle, pervasive guide of originality we were lucky to have!
Goodnight, “Starman.” Thank you for being my “Ziggy Stardust,” my “Rebel, Rebel,” and my “Queen Bitch,” my “Heathen,” my “Thursday’s Child” and my “Buddha Of Suburbia”… Thank you for encouraging me to accept the “Changes,” for saying “Let’s Dance,” even when “Under Pressure.” Because of you I’ve embraced “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and those freaky “Cat People,” and learned that “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” and that it’s sometimes OK to be “Afraid of Americans” but to watch out for the deceptive trappings of “Fame.” May you “Never Get Old” on your “Fantastic Voyage,” and make music for all “Heroes” and “Pretty Things” in the “Velvet Goldmine” for eternity.