I woke this morning to the news that the world has lost a glorious eccentricity. David Bowie, 69, has died.
It is hard to know how to sum up David Bowie. In fact, a good deal of the point of David Bowie is that there are no easy taglines. If he could be caught so simply in pressed words between tears, he’d have been mortally disappointed. When Freddy Mercury died I’d only heard one of his songs (The Show Must Go On, if you’re interested). My deep emotional attachment to him as a musical hero came later, after I moved back to the West and gained access to so much of my nation’s musical heritage. When Sir Pterry died, I knew it was coming and had several years to prepare.
I mean, where do you start? The clothes? The hair? Jareth’s trousers? This man regenerated more often than the Doctor, and just as completely; and Bowie did it on purpose. As with the Doctor, one can ask: which was your Bowie?
Imagine London in the late 1960s. UKIP would have looked like moderates back then. And there was this lanky scarecrow of a boy prancing about in outrageous, fabulous, spectacular space-age clown suits and haircuts twenty years ahead of fashion, with a voice that could carry you out of the mouldy flats and cheap-as chip shops and show you a galaxy of possibilities in three minutes twelve seconds of radio play. David Bowie’s one-man counter-culture should, if the bigots were right, have left south London permanently flooded for several decades.
And then there was the music. Most stage stars who develop spectacular personae do so because they need to; because their music is pretty normal under the hood. But with Bowie the logic was reversed; his musical creativity was so far beyond the borders of the mundane world that he needed to invent a whole new method of personhood just to have somewhere to put it. And then he needed to do it again. And again. And again. The endless, courageous and (lets face it) at times ridiculous rocket of rock that shot him out into space and spun orbits around reality seemed inexhaustible. But even the best of engines must at the last burn out.
And then, after all of that, all that’s left is us, and the marks he left with us. Bowie, like many of the other true originals, can be tracked through the lives of generations; in the soundtrack of sci-fi shows, in the iPods of teenagers, in the tears of their parents, and above all, in the music he inspired in others. His music, his personality, his glorious and untrammeled refusal to sit down, shut up and do what he was told, helped launch the world we live in out of the wreckage of the old order. Is there life on Mars? Check it out for us on your way past, mate…
Bowie is remembered in every gay kid who grows up knowing it’s ok to be themselves. He is remembered in every costume Lady Gaga wears, and every cover of ‘Rocket Man’, and every silver catsuit. He blazed trails for us to find our way into new galaxies of invention, and he left joy and inspiration littered behind him across the years.
We can hear you, Major Tom; we heard you loud and clear. And once again, you go before us, burning in your tin can, to light the way to a better future. Get some sleep; you earned it.