I’m taking a break from my usual disability issues and general soap-boxing, to remember and pay tribute to a remarkable individual who passed away last week, leaving this planet a little less wonderful. David Bowie died of liver cancer on the 9th of January, a few days after his 69th birthday. I heard the news on Monday morning when I turned on TV. Seeing the star’s familiar face, my first thought was that maybe he had a new album out or was touring again. It was only after a few minutes that I heard the tragic news and my reaction was very strange. I didn’t understand. What were they on about. David Bowie dying of cancer. What a ridiculous idea. In that moment of shock, I couldn’t comprehend the notion of something as base, cruel and downright, well, ordinary as cancer ending the existence of such a remarkable creative powerhouse as Bowie.
But I think my disbelief says something deeply profound about just what Bowie achieved in the six decades he graced the music charts. I found it hard to get my head round him dying because thanks to his originality and creativity I didn’t think of him as a flesh and blood human, but more of an entity, a creature of art and music, so self-crafted that the idea he could die jarred with my perception. There is so much that people of my generation and younger take for granted in popular culture that we can trace back to Bowie and his contemporaries. Today we are so used to the idea of gender fluidity, boys who look like girls, girls who look like boys; of pop stars suddenly completely changing their image that its hard to see it as more than another gimmick. But when Bowie burst onto the scene back in ’69 with his quilted catsuit, flame red hair and mismatched eyes, arm draped suggestively around the shoulders of his bassist as they harmonised in Starman, it was new, it was shocking. It was like something from another world.
Of course, there are many bands and singers who blazed a trail ‘in their day’ only to become associated with that place or time, but Bowie would never be that. Yes he would give the public these iconic images, Ziggy, The Thin White Duke, but almost as soon as they were seized on by his fans he would be on to the new idea with an almost ADHD attention span, always looking for something new to keep his interest. You had the sense that he never did something because he thought it was popular or would sell but simply because he wanted to do it. He was just blessed so that most of what he did do was remarkably good.
And it wasn’t just music. Writing, painting, design. It seemed like he just wanted to get what was in his head out for the world to see anyway he could. Acting too, who else could add that same otherworldly, beautiful uniqueness to films such as The Man Who Fell To Earth or Labyrinth. And he was beautiful, strikingly so. I’m not afraid to admit that one of the reasons I liked him was because like so many women (and men) I found him wildly attractive. Those miscoloured eyes, flawless white skin, uneven smile and slight build seemed to possess a exotic sexuality that was spellbindingly ethereal. Yet watching him in interviews, you get the sense that the man, the human who had been born plain David Jones in Brixton London, was a quiet, reserved, intelligent person, a shy individual prone to deep thought. Maybe that was the true reason for his many alter-egos, a method of displaying to the world how he felt and what he thought without them getting too close.
We very often use the phrase ‘music artist’ to describe someone with the ability to sing, play or compose. But while it is a gift to be blessed with such a talent it doesn’t necessarily make you an artist. True art challenges, it looks to see the world in a different way, it moves people, upsets the status quo and makes us ask questions. It changes the way we think. Bowie was such an artist.
Even nearing the end of his life when most people would have quite justifiably withdrawn from work to inwardly ponder their own tragic condition, Bowie kept writing, kept creating, using his disease as inspiration to create more art. I defy anyone, even those who didn’t like his music, to watch the video for his final single Lazarus, see him lying in a hospital bed, face bandaged, buttons over his eyes singing those haunting lyrics ‘Look at me, I’m in Heaven, I have scars no-one can see’ and not have some kind of reaction. How fitting that his last album was released just two days before his death and how right that he chose to have no funeral, no public monument to the man who lost himself behind his own creation and music. For although David Jones, the unassuming gentleman artist has died, David Bowie, his creation, his music and his iconic image will live on for decades to come.
By Holly Williams
From cosmic dust the call has come
They have beamed up Major Tom
Gleaming Glam Rock stella light dims
In cold, inky headlines and disbelieving cyber tweets
My mind, like once more in adolescent stupidity
Struggles to understand, how can a music-painted false-Christ
Really be human flesh, prone to illness
and not some ethereal alien from dimensions unknown?
But then, again
He wasn’t man
He wasn’t woman
He wasn’t human
But a being of his own creation
Sending out the signal through vinyl and modem
to generation after generation of lonely outsiders in poster-pasted bedrooms
You can be what you want to be
What you choose to create of yourself
Time scurries forward and each moment alters
A constant wave never at rest
Casting up changing guises
To mark the public eye with their un-judging commentary
Icons of sound and vision
Now only effigies of the man who was never there
Ziggy’s guitar lays silent
Sanity had returned to the lad
And young Americans mourn the Thin White Duke
I watch with thousands as the owl-winged Goblin King takes one last flight across the fantasy sky
Tears in our eyes as the world falls down
He took to the stage for one final encore
Laid wasting flesh and voice naked and aged before us
His departure merely another incarnation
To leave this planet darker without his alien halo glow
Journeying ever onward