Spoiler alert: This random collection of words contains phrases and thoughts which would not be considered appropriate reading for children, and will likely offend those who are easily offended. You’ll also be offended if you don’t believe there’s a star man, waiting in the sky. He’d like to come and see you, but he thinks he’d blow your mind.
Not My Personal Jesus
Something has happened, and it’s taking me a lot longer than I realized for me to understand what I’m feeling.
It seems just about right for me, that this installment of You Can’t Say That is the 8th. In recent years I have become a little bit obsessive about numbers. It’s not so much that I believe in numerology, I don’t think I do. But…certain numbers seem to appear at strange times and so I can’t help but wonder if there is significance to this. I’ve had a thing for the number 8 for a couple of years now, because if you reach out and push it over, it becomes infinity. And I love infinity.
We all have heroes. There are people that we follow – if not religiously, then at least in such a frenzied manner that you might think we’re obsessed or have some kind of unnatural thing happening in how we feel.
So, to repeat myself: something has happened. I was standing in front of the microwave at work. It was 2 a.m. Sunday night / Monday morning, and I was midway through my shift. I was tired but one of my buddies was working that night so I was trying to hurry up and eat so I could go back downstairs for the rest of my break and hang out and talk about whatever shit we talk about when we’re on break.
Then, *ding! My phone made that messenger noise. It was another friend, messaging me:
…and I stared at the phone as though the words were written in Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Five seconds later, the television above the microwave made a funny noise. BREAKING NEWS. David Bowie has died. CNN began talking and I stood there with my bowl of noodles in one hand and my phone in the other. I just stood there, not comprehending.
Bowie can’t die.
Can you believe, that’s what I thought? Bowie can’t die. He’s David fucking Bowie, for fuck’s sake.
Now, if you like, please feel free to do an epic eye roll. I see on social media all the time where people make fun of other people who mourn the death of a celebrity. So, if that’s your bag, then by all means, go ahead and shake your head and think to yourself, “Greeeat…here we go again.”
Or keep reading.
Maybe when you were a kid, you had an older sibling that you idolized…or a favorite aunt or uncle that bent the rules just enough that life was far more interesting when they were around than when they weren’t. Perhaps you had that best mate in school, the one friend you could count on to color your world in such a way that you couldn’t imagine life without them.
Don’t misunderstand, Reader – I had this best friend and that one, and I cherished them, sure enough. Each year during school I would gravitate toward one particular person or maybe a few, due to whatever our interests were at the time, and we were close that whole year. Then summer would happen, the next school year would begin, and the whole process would reset.
In grade school, I discovered Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, and 80’s music, and my life began to have a soundtrack. All of a sudden the yee-haw stuff my parents listened to on the radio was no longer acceptable.
By middle school, I had encountered other music, thanks to my new-found friendships with kids who had moved here from the west coast, and that’s where David Bowie stepped in and everything changed…and now? Now, he’s gone.
I want to talk about something I am not sure I can talk about, I want to talk about the inside from the inside, I do not want to leave it…
― Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea
I’m not sad. Not really.
I discovered Bowie when I was 12 years old. I wasn’t particularly fond of musicals back then, and I still don’t particularly like them now. But the first time I had the opportunity to put the face with the voice was The Labyrinth. What a face it was. For a naïve child living in what I used to call the Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt, the magic that embodied David Bowie was an enlightening force that snatched my soul between its teeth and shook it mercilessly.
Bear in mind, my childhood was not much of a childhood. So even seeing this film at such a young age was some kind of miracle.
Oh, I loved him. I loved him fiercely. I loved his wonky eye and his sneer, and his voice reverberated and some part of the deepest recesses in my brain responded. I began writing at about that same time. Coincidence?
There was a cheap newspaper-grade magazine that I somehow had subscribed to which was not much more than a catalog of music stars; I believe it was called Musicade. It was about 20 pages of lists of names and descriptions of memorabilia you could purchase. I ordered one photo of David Bowie, thinking I was getting the Labyrinth photo, and wound up with some promo shot of him in a blue suit jacket and yellow tie. I was disappointed, but not horribly disappointed. After all, it was still David Bowie.
Fast forwarding to the internet age: I was a first generation Bowienet member. I didn’t even have the money to do it and I did it anyway. That’s what credit cards are for, remember? They’re for your wants, not your needs, darling.
I remember David Bowie would come into the Bowienet chat room, always under the name “sailor” and interact with us, and I remember he and I “singing” the tune Bicycle Built for Two because he and I were the only ones in the chat room who knew the words.
Soon after, I would attend the first Bowienet concert at the Roseland Ballroom. I didn’t jump up and down and scream – I stood fifty feet from the stage, gazing up at him and wishing I could say ‘thank you’ to the man who was not afraid to be anyone he wanted to be for as long as he wanted to be…
Why say ‘thank you’ to a man who has no idea that I exist? Why make this out to be some fangirly piece and oooh and ahhh over a celebrity when, let’s face it, a half dozen other musicians and actors have succumbed to Death just since the beginning of this year?
It has definitely been the Year of Shocks thus far. We’re not even two dozen days in and Generation X is suffering one loss after another.
I won’t discount the other lights that have been extinguished this year. I’m only focusing on the one that managed to stun me into silence.
“Sometimes pretending is the best way to get out of the labyrinth of life.”
― Ama H.Vanniarachchy
I suspect David Bowie really was an alien, y’know…like an alien from another planet or dimension. No, I’m not late taking my meds, and I’m not high.
I am not afraid of the idea of life on other planets. In fact, I have heard people voice the opinion that humans are not originally from this planet, and this would not surprise me either.
I am not afraid to think David Bowie came from outer space. Ehhm…have you ever listened to his music?
Either way, I’m not sad, not exactly. I’m stunned, and I feel diminished.
This is the musician who did it for me. This is the music I played when I stayed up all night, writing or doing homework, or pouring my heart into my journal. This is the music I listened to as a teenager when contemplating suicide, and the music that I knew I would never hear again if I took my own life.
This is the exception to my dislike for musicals. I searched for every film he was in, and accepted them without regard to any bashing from any naysayer.
He enchanted me, over and over.
David Bowie provided the best soundtrack for the life I have lived thus far. My brain doesn’t operate exactly like every other brain. Call me crazy, or lazy; call me erratic. I won’t take offense.
I can’t tell you what my favorites are where Bowie is concerned. I can’t tell you that he’s my personal Jesus, or that I’m broken hearted, or any of those things. For the first time I have no idea what to say. I stepped away from Facebook once I heard the news. You wanna know why?
It’s because I don’t know what to say right now. I don’t have anything funny to say. People tell me I’m funny; they say I’m engaging and witty, and all of those things are probably true. I love making people laugh. It makes me feel good when something I say makes someone burst out in laughter.
But I don’t have witty things happening in my head right now. I’m not feeling very funny or witty or clever. So I stepped away for a week or so.
I wanted to share how I really feel about this loss, and I don’t think I have done a very good job of it. I want to tell you a hundred stories of meeting people in New York over 15 years ago…people I had only talked to online for months. I want to tell you about staying up all night in a little club called Faces, and getting hundreds of kisses and ten times as many laughs – I want to tell you about breaking up with a boyfriend as a teen and listening to Ziggy Stardust as consolation, and about riding in the back seat of a plaid painted car in the middle of South Bend, Indiana while Let’s Dance blared so loudly that the whole car shook.
I doubt any of those stories would give you a fraction of the picture I wish I could paint.
So I’m not sad, not really.
My brain is a little different from other brains. While many people in today’s world go about their lives, stuffed to the gills with the uncontrollable urge to be constantly stimulated by technology, I am fortunate to have the ability to live inside my own head and be okay. And what a great blessing it is to have David Bowie in there, nestled comfortably in and around so many memories.
The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old….and I was fortunate to not only live during the same time as David Bowie, but to see him with my own eyes. I was fortunate to reach across the confines of space and convention and interact with someone whose brain was nothing like other brains.
When Leonard Nimoy died, I cried. When Michael Jackson died, I cried. When David Bowie died, the wind was knocked from my lungs and I stayed silent.
I’ve ghosted along on Facebook, because I knew people would be posting articles about the last days and weeks and months, and I’ve read dozens…where the secret illness took hold, where the man who sold the world worried that he would not live to finish this album. He worried but kept pushing. Many have said this was his gift to his fans, this last album.
The sick agony lingering in the back of my throat threatens to make me completely lose it, when I read and re-read the lines of how he had four or five heart attacks near the end. My stomach clenches and I ball up my fists and I’m angry and yet some insistent little voice in the back of my head (sounding suspiciously like the younger Bowie who sang a song many of you might have never heard of, entitled Rubber Band) whispers to me, Oh…but didn’t he go out with a bang? Didn’t he leave this planet with style and grace? It was like it was on his terms…don’t you think?
This comforts me, a little. I know that people deal with cancer in different ways – some people wave it around in everyone’s face like a gigantic flag, or use it as the world’s biggest soapbox. Some people cope with cancer by making sure everyone on the planet knows they have it; this could be a positive way of dealing with it, if you’re hoping to raise awareness while you fight for your life. I get that. Then again, for some, it seems they become the cancer by letting every breath exhaled include that vicious c-word. I think it could be that you lose yourself if you let this happen. I don’t know.
I had a cancer scare recently. I don’t talk about it because illness is a personal thing for me. I am grateful that it was only a scare, and it woke me up even more to the idea of gratitude and having the best attitude I possibly can, every day, with every person I encounter. I am better able to be gracious and engaging with the most unpleasant dickheads and walk away knowing it was the right way to behave.
David Bowie didn’t tell very many people that he was suffering from cancer. To my knowledge, this illness was not made public until after his death, and I admire him even more for this. As I just said, illness is a personal thing to me. If you feel differently, fine…
I loved David Bowie from the moment I laid eyes on him, from the moment I heard his voice, for months and years and decades. He remains the best and most solid soundtrack for my life, and while there have been and will be other tracks by other artists peppered throughout the coming years, he will always be there, nestled comfortably around the strange recesses of my brain.
I’m not sad, not really. After all…aliens don’t really die. They return to the planet from whence they came.
I’ll see you again sometime, sailor…