Most every morning, the first thing I do when I wake up that time – the time I know I’m going to get up and not just roll over again – is grab my phone. On it, there’s usually a dozen or so notifications of things that happened when I was asleep, 97% of which are nothing of consequence. This morning, there was only one.
4:27 AM CNN Breaking News: David Bowie has died at age 69.
There are different levels of emotion one feels when a famous person dies starting with indifference. Like, oh that person is dead. Next thought. Then you get to the, Oh, that’s sad. Next thought. Skip a few levels and you end up with the ones you cry over.
The last famous dead person I cried over was Steve Jobs. Just a bit because it had been coming and we all knew. Those are the situations where you get to mourn in slow motion for a long time. Steel yourself. In the case of Steve, that was months if not years. But Bowie just happened. Like that bolt painted on his face on the cover of Aladdin Sane.
So I said to myself, FUCK, and opened the apps and read the news. I wasn’t ready for it to hit me like it did. In fact, it wasn’t until I got into the bathroom to get ready for work an hour or so later and started playing my Bowie playlist that it became real and I felt the emotion and that made me cry. Honestly, I think of people who cry when famous people die as marginally unstable. They don’t know them. Sure, it’s fine to feel a sad, but to cry. That’s for people you really know. But that’s not what happened this morning. I was crying for Bowie. Then I’d stop and the song would change I’d do it all over again. Streaming tears. What the fuck?
David Bowie was the featured artist on the soundtrack that was the John Hughes movie of my young adult life. The first time I have any memory of hearing one of his songs was relatively late considering he started releasing albums in the 60’s. I was at a friend’s house who was one of the first I knew who had cable and MTV and it was just on and playing in the corner as a bunch of us hung out. This was also the first time I ever saw MTV and the video playing was “China Girl.” And man, that voice. I recall just staring transfixed. Then I bought Let’s Dance then I ended up hanging out with people who had the whole back-catalog and then he was always just there.
David Bowie was the first person upon whom I ever heard the label “bisexual” applied. I knew he was it before I knew I was. Even today, if you told me to say the first thing that came into my head upon hearing “bisexual” I’d probably say Bowie. Then “Dancing in the Streets” came out and there was the guy he was supposedly bisexual with (among others). For a really, really long time the entire universe of out bisexual people I could point to was David Bowie. And in a way, the fact that he just was bisexual without any politics or flag waving or carrying on was quietly and powerfully influential on me. I never realized how much that meant to me until I was standing in the bathroom this morning feeling stupid about the tears running down my face.
Funny thing is, I kinda stopped following Bowie after “Blue Jean” was released. We do that sometimes, I guess. The best music is the music that was made when we were 17. I’ve lost time for music now. All I do now is consume information. I listen to the news and podcasts and hoover up as much info as possible. Who has time to listen to new music when the world is still full of so many interesting things I haven’t learned about yet? But every time I heard he released a new album, including his last just a few days ago, I’d think a happy thought. He was still out there. Still doing his thing. Still reinventing himself.
I’m forty-eight. Not old but not young. Old enough to know better than ever that I’m not going to be around forever. That more of me is in the past than in the future. The death of David Bowie is also the death of a chunk of my youth. This is what getting old is, I think, more than the ache and the lines on your face. When you become aware that the things that mattered to you before you developed a sense of your own mortality are literally dying around you.
God, it fucking sucks he’s dead.