- by paul_guyet Release Date: Label:
I went about David Bowie all wrong. I was introduced to him, by accident, as a child, when I rented a VHS copy of Labyrinth from Couch Potato video. The cover was awesome, I knew and loved the Muppets, and I'd been to Jim Henson's house, so why wouldn't I rent this? He was the Goblin King. All right. Cool.
In my teens, I was reintroduced to him by Trent Reznor, specifically when I heard Reznor on the 'I'm Afraid of Americans'* remix. "David Bowie?... Oh, you mean the Goblin King, yeah, I know him..." The fact that he was friends with Trent Reznor (with whom I was at the height of my obsession at the time) made him cool in my eyes. I repeat: the fact that David Bowie was friends with Trent Reznor made David Bowie cool in my eyes.
You see what I mean? All wrong. Soon after, I saw Se7en, and did some homework when I heard Bowie again, moaning and hissing on 'Heart's Filthy Lesson'. I discovered Outside.
Things finally started clicking for me in 1999, but neither fast nor hard enough. My first year of college, a whole bunch of Bowie's earlier work was reissued, from Space Oddity to the first Tin Machine album. The combination of cable internet, the birth of Napster, and my impecunious status as a college freshman resulted in a lot of stolen, low-quality Bowie music burned, haphazardly, onto CD-Rs. And, even though I had Bowie's full catalog at my fingertips, I still didn't get a lot of it.
Eventually, I did what I should have done years before and sat down with everything. I learned that I loved his earlier work and his later work but was lukewarm on most of the middle of his career, aside from Low. I learned that David Bowie was the Funkiest White Man Alive**. I learned what his wang looked like by watching The Man Who Fell to Earth.
After that, Bowie was just... there, like this musical spirit with a song or album for every mood or feeling. Then, in 2003, he puts out Reality, which closes with 'Bring Me the Disco King'. After hearing that for the first time, I declared Bowie's career over. If he never recorded another note, that would be fine, because 'Disco King' was the perfect end to David Bowie's career.
"You promised me the ending would be clear/ You'd let me know when the time was now/ Don't let me know when you're opening the door/ Stab me in the dark, let me disappear". Fucking come on, man! He'd said everything he needed to and would now just be David Bowie, enjoying all the things that encompassed. But, I'll be damned if, a decade later, he drops The Next Day, which, I will confess, hasn't sunk in with me yet. I dug all the videos and a few tracks, and I get that it's good, but it just never did it for me.
Then, in November... Surprise... 'Blackstar'. This song and video changed me. I'd never heard anything like it, I'd never seen anything like it. Bowie was about to create a new world for us, like Diamond Dogs or Outside, except this time, he was going to do so with almost 70 years of life and experiences under his belt. This was going to be... unparalleled.
I got my review copy and was disappointed. Not because it wasn't a good album, it was a very good album, but it wasn't the album I had wanted from David Bowie. I repeat: I was disappointed because it wasn't the album I had wanted from David Bowie.
Instead of starting things off with 'Blackstar' and continuing to reveal this new world to us, we got some leftover tracks from a year ago, a song from this play Dexter was in, Bowie's love letter to a secret, British, gay language***, and some wistful and reflective tracks that were wistful and reflective. I was beginning to tire of the album, as I'd been listening to nothing else for a week or more, so, last week, I decided to spend more time with the second two installments in his Hansa Trilogy, "Heroes" and Lodger, both of which I had heard but never really listened to.
The evening of Thursday the 7th, I attended a performance of Lazarus, the night after, on his 69th birthday, I watched Tony Visconti, Woody Woodmansey and friends perform all of The Man Who Sold the World, most of Ziggy Stardust, and a handful of other early Bowie hits, live, and, at one point, Visconti had us sing 'Happy Birthday' to David into Visconti's phone. Then, two days later, this.
This will sound idiotically naive, but I somehow thought Bowie would outlive all of us.
He was so many things to his fans: angel, alien, sex symbol, angelic alien sex symbol; I feel like we're more devastated than his family could possibly be, as they only knew and loved him as a man, a father, a husband.
In the wake of his passing, we're all going to be exposed to a whole hell of a lot of people remembering, recounting, and reliving their own Bowie Moments, but in light of the fact that he knew about his illness and that everything on his final album was meant to be a farewell to the world, nothing will ever be a more eloquent, poignant, and haunting eulogy than the one he wrote for himself in the album, its artwork, and the videos for 'Blackstar' and, especially, 'Lazarus'.
David Bowie spun death.
But Bowie means something different to everyone. To me, Bowie will be forever pursued through the streets of downtown New York City by a goateed Trent Reznor, will always be ruthlessly mocking Ricky Gervais in song, and will always, always, always be the Goblin King.
And the Goblin King can never die.
* At the time of its release, 1997 or '98, I had never heard "Heroes".
** An honor/burden that now falls upon Beck.
*** When I heard about that, the first words out of my mouth were, "Of course he's doing a song like this, he's David fucking Bowie."