“Check ignition, and may God’s love be with you.” –Tweeted by the Vatican!
It’s official. I’m haunted.
As Alan Cross so aptly stated, “David Bowie [was] not supposed to die.” As a life-long fan, I was delighted that Bowie released a new album on his birthday, and then stunned to learn of his death two days later. He was king of the freaks and the misfits: fearless, androgynous, shape shifting, enigmatic. He had strange eyes, bad teeth (until Imam), and a powerful command of uncanny symbolism. He was a charismatic artist in every sense of the word. He unnerved us, challenged us and demanded that we step out of our comfortable world view. He was also a fallible human being who spent much of the seventies junked-out on cocaine and heroin, but thankfully he came out the other side. By all accounts in recent years he focused on a quiet life with his family, and was a kind and generous friend.
His last video, Lazarus, was electrifying to me. I have no idea if he knew that he would be comatose by the time it was released…that he would literally be performing a message from beyond the grave about a man from who came back from the dead. This video is shocking in its honesty, magnetic, and a fusion of all of Bowie’s exceptional talents. Bowie was a master of non-verbal communication. He was trained in mime and worked as an actor both on Broadway and in film. Lazarus is Bowie contemplating his own death, and he doesn’t prettify or romanticize it. In fact, the video is vaguely terrifying. His lyrics, (Look up here, I’m in heaven/) are at once deeply personal, elliptical, and sometimes ironic (Everybody knows me now). The female figure of death (or love, or both) comes out of the closet, and from under the bed, like a childhood monster. The deceased character in the bed wears a death mask, while the “live” Bowie dressed in a jumpsuit that combines “prisoner” and “clown” frantically tries to get more writing done in between moments of fear and anxiety. This is a character who is not at peace, not ready to die, and Bowie is fearless about letting us see that. No one has ever created anything vaguely like this, and he has taken as great a risk with his swan song as he did when he first took Ziggy Stardust to the stage. He has made us look at our own mortality by allowing us to look at his.
Shunryu Suzuki said, “Things teach best when they’re dying.” Of course, we’re all dying…we just don’t want to think about it. For me David Bowie was the embodiment of creative possibility who always seemed a little ethereal, alien, and impossible to know—which is true of all of us. We’re constantly shifting and changing as the conditions around us change. We can never entirely know one another or ourselves, because we are deeply ephemeral beings. David Bowie understood that and lived it. And now he is gone, and not gone. Here and not here. He has taken his greatest leap, and “Just like that bluebird” he is free.
I’m grateful for his legacy, and that he always blew my mind,