I was up late last night, some friends were over and a game of Risk went well into the late hours—we indulged in the time honored tradition of pausing the game and leaving it for another day. In bed, I was looking over Facebook on my phone as the clock climbed to around two in the morning. I saw the news that David Bowie had died from his official account, and at first I thought it must be a hoax and the account had been hacked. “Cancer? Surely we’d know something if it was cancer.”
Sadly, right as I was doing some last minute, mind assuring google work to get to the bottom of it, the confirmation came. I managed to get to sleep, but I woke to a flood of messages and facebook posts. Everyone having the same reaction I had in the wee small hours. Shock and disbelief—with David Bowie’s death coming a mere two days after his birthday, and the day he released what is his now final album. Something that hit a bit more to home for me for a reason that may mean nothing to you, but has meant something to me. We both shared a birthday. January Eighth. David Bowie, Elvis, and I—not the same years, but still, ever since I learned that fact in my late teens it’s been something I’ve taken quite a bit of dare-I-say pride in.
I started listening to David Bowie regularly when I was 17. The most impactful thing that happened to me during my senior year of high school is that I went through a big musical re-birth. I’d always been a die-hard music fan, but without any radio to play stuff outside of the mainstream, I didn’t know what all was out there. There was a classic rock station, but they never played any David Bowie. It was humble what I had, a career spanning best of CD that was a newish release. My head fills this morning with memories of driving my first car around with the windows down and belting out “Rebel, Rebel. It all hit me at the right time.
I was angry and frustrated with the school experience during those days. I was confused about my place in the world, and I wondered if I fit in anywhere. Bowie was the crucial centerpiece for a number of cherished experiences that year. “This is one of David Bowie’s favorites, you should listen to it” a friend said as he handed me a CD with a yellow banana on the cover and the name “The Velvet Underground & Nico” on it.
Not only was Bowie’s music a big part of that time, David Bowie served as a gateway to other music that I would soon spend hours listening to. Through David Bowie I discovered The Velvet Underground, which led to Lou Reed and his Bowie produced “Transformer” album. Another Bowie production led to the discovery of Iggy Pop, which then led to The Stooges which then all met together in the glory of hearing The Ramones’ first album for the first time.
As my late teens turned into my early twenties and friends began to have places of their own, parties would be thrown and I would go. We were all music and record geeks, and parties were as much an excuse to show off our records as it was to dance and try to get up the courage to see if ______ would dance/make out with you. I rarely could get up the courage, so I spent a lot of hours at these parties on the couch and in the dark corners—preferably hiding out near the record player.
The confusion of fitting in never really would go away. During the moments by the record player, I would be looking around and find myself feeling as something of a misfit among the misfits. The saving grace for me was always the music, as it has been during the darkest moments of my life. In those dark moments, both by the record player, and observing from the quiet corner of the party, one thought would come to my mind.
“January Eight” I’d think to myself, and then I’d think “I share a birthday with Elvis and David Bowie. Maybe all these crazy ideas for creative things I want to do with my life aren’t so crazy. Maybe I can do these things? Maybe I can because I share a day with two men who achieved much?. I’ll never get their level, but surely it’s not a random fluke I was born on this day too?” Arrogant? Perhaps. Presumptuous? Maybe. However, this feeling would keep me going, and keep me from falling too far into the deep end of despair and depression.
As I turned 31 this year, I woke and did what I always do in the mornings on my birthday. I played a little Elvis, and then I played a little Bowie. Smiling and thinking about the wonderful joy I take in having a deep, overwhelming love for music, and sharing my birthday with two of its tallest figures. So here I sit, three days later and David Bowie is no longer with us. I type these words as I sip my coffee and listen to the fadeout of “Moonage Daydream” for during the time it’s taken me to write this, I’ve played both “Hunky Dory” and now “Ziggy Stardust.”
It doesn’t seem possible that David Bowie is actually gone. He was David Bowie, he wasn’t a mere mortal. He was this larger than life figure that gave us an incredible body of work that will never die. Music never dies, and time and time again it’s been proven that Bowie’s music will continue. As sad and shocked as I am this day, I take heart in that. I take heart in the kids who will one day discover his music, and the future misfits he’ll be able to help. Music is the most important thing to me. It’s a deep, spiritual feeling I have when I connect with music. My love of music has led me to find such joy, and connect with amazing people to build a rich tapestry of friends that the extremely awkward wallflower couldn’t have possibly dreamed of.
Thanks, Mr. Jones. Thanks for the music, thanks for being born on January Eighth and giving an odd hope to a kid who felt really hopeless once. Thanks for opening the doors to a world of music I didn’t know was out here. Thanks, for everything. There’s a new starman waiting in the sky.