Waking at 5 a.m. to the clock radio announcing the death of David Bowie was a curious way to start a Monday. I was planning to dive into his final album Dark Star this week, and it was fitting to hear the opening lyric of the tune “Lazarus” on my commute this morning: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” The Daily Mail had apt observations of its likely awareness of death.
I never fell into the category of screaming Bowie fan, but I liked him from the beginning and consistently through the years, ultimately buying most of his albums and seeing all of his movies except for Labyrinth. His music was less a soundtrack for a particular time in my life — with the possible exception of his Berlin period — as it was like a familiar friend that might drift out of my life for years but then return and it felt like we were picking up the conversation where we had left it and now exploring new topics together.
There are various artists and performers for whom I was a fanatic and came to feel betrayed by the or awake to find out that my youthful fascination with their brilliance was all a delusion. I never had the crashed dream with Bowie. I actually liked his latter, less known late period work as much or more than his early work from my teen years. While few people could name more than two Rolling Stone songs released in the past 35 years, I came to find Bowie’s music more compelling with each new release.
I’ve always agreed with the assertion that we are really crying for ourselves not the departed when we mourn the dead. It puts our own mortality the the passage of time into often sobering perspective. Bowie was nine years my senior, and he was just four to five years shy of Bing Crosby’s age when they sang that Christmas duet in 1977.
The photo at the top reportedly taken by his wife Iman on his birthday on Friday does not suggest it is of a man who would be gone in less than 72 hours. It reminds me of the Joan Didion quote: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”