I didn’t lose my virginity to David Bowie like Lori Mattix did. I don’t even think he was in the tape deck at the time (that’s how long ago I lost it). Is there a Bowie song that’s right for that type of occasion? He has written a lot of great songs but I can’t think of one that would’ve been right for that “first time.” “Drive-In Saturday?” “Tonight?” What was playing when Bowie lost it?
Bowie never made music with me like he did with Ben Monder. I am not a musician or even a jazz fan but I’ve read a lot about Blackstar and how it’s his parting gift to fans. Ben Greenmail wrote one of my favorite Blackstar reviews. It also my favorite review title: “The Beautiful Meaninglessness of David Bowie.” Though I disagree with the assertion that Bowie’s lyrics are “nonsense” — “Nonsense” was more a Dadaists convention than the Surrealists, which I associate more with Bowie.
Greenman mentions the “Cut-up” method in his review. It was a writing method developed by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. They wrote a book describing it, The Third Mind: “Cut-ups establish new connections between images, and one’s range of vision consequently expands.” Greenman says Bowie wrote “Diamond Dogs” using this method. In the movie that accompanied the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Bowie Is” exhibit a few years ago, Bowie proudly shows off a “random word generator” computer that he had been incorporating into his song writing. I wonder how many of the songs on Blackstar were products of his word machine?
Its interesting to think that the artist who so carefully crafted his personas adopted an artistic technique that is reliant on random outcomes.
I’ve connected the stories told in the “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” videos into a single story told in two parts. The first, “Blackstar” tells of the discovery of the corpse of an ancient alien astronaut (Major Tom). The beings who discover it, the Huldra (Norwegian forest spirits), present it to the humans who raise its stature to a god’s. There’s a beautiful image about half way through the video (4:33) of Bowie as the “Preacher” holding up the Blackstar bible and three people in the background, all looking forward in awe in from of a painted dawn. It reminded me of Communist propaganda posters from China’s Cultural Revolution.
“Lazarus” concludes the “Blackstar” story. The Preacher (Bowie) is dying. He struggles to write his final sermon and make his final peace with the god he has devoted his life to. The button-eyed scarecrow-man — the Preacher attaining sainthood — and the image of the skull connected the two videos in my head. The filmmaker who collaborated with Bowie on these videos, Johan Renck, says, “Most things like this are for the eyes of the beholder, you know? You make of it whatever you want.” This is what I’ve made.
Steven Kurutz’s New York Times piece, “David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker,” has one of my favorite Bowie stories. He interviews playwright, John Guare, who met with Bowie on several occasions to discuss collaborating. Guare says, “We would take walks around the East Village and I was always praying somebody would run into us so I could say, ‘Do you know my friend David Bowie?’”
In addition to Guare, Kurutz quotes, Gerard Malanga, who worked with Andy Warhol. Despite having mutual friends, Malanga refers to himself as “one of the millions who never encountered David on the street or anywhere.” I count myself among Malanga’s millions — though after reading about what Guare called “Bowie’s Cloak of Invisibility,” I now imagine that I might have shared a sidewalk with Bowie and just not been aware of it. Or maybe I waited behind him for a Milk Tea or he behind me as I also ordered a chuang fun, a dan tat, and a naaih cha. Kurutz said Bowie liked early morning walks in Chinatown.
Next weekend the sold out Radio City and Carnegie Hall tributes to Bowie are happening. Even if tickets were still available, I can’t afford to go. I’ll subsist on the clips that will eventually trickle onto YouTube. Like one of the fans quoted in the article, “Thank You, Mr. Bowie. You Changed Our Lives,” Bowie has inspired me and I expect his legacy will continue to do so. Under the heading,“Always Reinventing,” a fan writes of how Bowie helped them gain the confidence to make the changes they have been wanting to make in their lives. They write: “he taught me what the artist’s life could be, what a person’s life could be, and that it was always in flux.” I feel the same. Bowie has influenced how I think about change in my professional and personal life.
I didn’t know David Bowie, so its disingenuous for me to say I’m going to miss him but as someone who has been inspired by him I am sure I am going to miss what he was going to do next.
There’s a Bowie quote circulating around the internet since his passing that I think sums things up perfectly: “don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring.”