Brittany Helmer-Peschier reflects upon the passing of the Iconic showman, David Bowie.
I woke up yesterday morning, first day of semester II, full of motivation and optimism. I was looking forward to getting back into my college routine, going to my first yoga class, and changing over to a healthier diet.
My lecture finished at 11 and I went to the upstairs café for a cup of coffee with my friend. We sat down and 10 minutes later she said to me with a ring of shock in her voice.
“David Bowie’s died!”
I looked up at her quizzically. “No he didn’t. He just released a new album, and he said he isn’t touring anymore but will still do small venues”.
“Well it says here on Facebook that he died”.
“Google it. It could be a hoax”.
I desperately wanted it to be fake. David Bowie is one of my most loved musicians. I’ve been wanting to see him perform for years and the idea that it will no longer be a possibility overwhelmed me. Yet there it was, the first line from the BBC article.
“David Bowie dies of cancer, aged 69 after losing an 18 month battle with cancer”.
It took a minute to sink in but when it did, I immediately sent the link to my friends back home and posted it on Facebook. I was devastated. I held my head in my hands and had to process the news for a few minutes. It was like my whole day had be ruined.
“David Bowie died”, I kept repeating to myself. I found it so hard to believe.
It seemed silly to get so emotional about a man I had never met, someone who I idolized but could actually be a horrible person behind closed doors. It was also strange to me that I was having such a dramatic reaction because I usually don’t care when celebrities die.
“One less rich asshole to worry about” I would often say.
Yet this was different. This death meant something to me, and for good reason. David Bowie was one of the most influential and iconic musical figures of his era and for generations after. He openly admitted to being gay and blurred the line between gender norms and more than bent the rules about sexuality.
David Bowie started out as a folk singer, but quickly transitioned over to Rock n’ Roll. He had a fascination with space and a passion for sexual politics. Those two things combined gave us albums like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Since the start of his transition, Bowie released albums with the cover being him dressed in women’s clothing. He always hinted at his sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until arrival of Ziggy Stardust that things started to become clear.
Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s alter ego, was a bisexual alien who came to earth to send a message for extraterrestrial beings and save the world with his music. It was around this time in his life that Bowie boldly bent the rules about sexuality and gender. He adorned himself in androgynous clothing, wore bold makeup and brightly coloured hair. He decided that he and his music needed to be outrageous, and that being outrageous had to become mainstream.
“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, “Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman”.
He paved the way for other Rock musicians to experiment with their own identities. Heavy eye makeup and long flowing hair, accompanied with tight jeans quickly became the trend of that era. Gender norms were beginning to change.
In 1972 David Bowie came out as gay, saying that he had always been gay “even when I was David Jones”.
This statement made Bowie the only openly gay rockstar at the time, which was huge considering that being gay was decriminalized in England only 5 years before that statement, and gay marriage was not yet legal.
Bowie was known as an ever evolving artist who constantly changed his fashion style and sound of his music.
“I’ve reinvented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman”
One thing that stayed constant, however, was the topic of his music, almost always something political or sociological. His songs often told stories about members of society who didn’t quite fit in, who were “aliens” just like him. It’s important to understand that David Bowie wasn’t just a bisexual alien rockstar on stage, but he was in his music as well. Like many rock musicians at the time, he tackled sociological issues, but he did it in a way that no one else really could. He reveled in being a sexual deviant on and off the stage, and in his music, and he wanted his fans to do the same. He wanted deviance from gender norms and rules about sexuality to be celebrated.
“What I like my music to do to me is awaken the ghosts inside me. Not the demons, you understand, but the ghosts”
For example, Rebel Rebel was about a girl who wasn’t, to put it simply, “ladylike”
“You’ve got your mother in a whirl/she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.”
The chorus goes, “Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress/Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess/Rebel Rebel, how could they know?/Hot tramp, I love you so”.
His song Starman talks about a man in the sky who wants to come down and free everyone from social confines but is worried it will “blow their minds”
As I walked out of the student center today, music was playing loudly outside. Though I didn’t know the song, I immediately recognized the voice. Again I was overwhelmed with emotion, and even a bit of anxiety. I had to get away from it. I was glad that I had to walk to the Western Gateway Building, I would soon be a safe distance from the music, but not for long.
I wrote this article while listening to the extended version of Heroes, a 6 minute song about two lovers having an affair and cannot be together. Yet for this one day, they can be heroes and bask in their love for each other. This is my favourite David Bowie song. You can really hear the intensity and emotion in his voice, desperation even, to cling to his lover. Being an admittedly promiscuous person, Bowie surely had a few long lost loves in his life.
His new album Black Star was released in 2016 after a 10 year hiatus. It was released on his 69th birthday, January 8th, just days before his death. His wife Imam said he released it as a “parting gift” to his fans. Black Star is yet another one of David Bowie’s identities. The album itself is, of course, full of songs about sexual politics with songs like ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore.
Music Critic David Fricke describes it as “his most aggressively experimental album yet”.
David Bowie’s music will continue to inspire generations of people. He’s left us with a musical and political legacy that’s so brilliant, this 1000 word article can’t do it justice. How could you sufficiently describe a person like David Bowie? Someone who wanted to be superhuman, someone who was reinvented with every album he released.
“I’m an instant star. Just add water” as if it’s actually that simple.
Now there is a starman waiting in the sky. David, or Ziggy, or Blackstar, whatever you choose to call him, will be missed.
RIP David Bowie.
1947 – 2016