Today would have been David Bowie’s 71st birthday. It is two years since he released his album, Blackstar. It is one of the few albums that genuinely merit the word “masterpiece”. It was his final album. Two days later, he left us. I found out when a friend mentioned it in a text message before I’d got out of bed. She hadn’t realised that I didn’t already know. She felt terrible, being the one to tell me.
“Dropped my cellphone down below”
That line in Lazarus always reminds me of that moment, when I dropped my phone in shock, accidentally calling my friend back. That was a good thing. I needed someone to talk to before I could even begin to think about processing the news.
I texted my man.
“David Bowie died.”
It hit me, appropriately enough, like a thunderbolt. It looked like the one he wears on the cover of Aladdin Sane, and it struck me hard. I felt sick. This wasn’t happening. It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. He’d only released Blackstar two days ago, on his 69th birthday. He couldn’t be gone. Not now.
He couldn’t leave me, and millions of others, alone.
My creative world collapsed. I felt it give way beneath me and it took every ounce of emotional strength to stop me from falling through the hole that was left.
I was 15 when I became obsessed with David Bowie, and I was 41 when he died. I’ve led more than half my life with his music as the soundtrack. As I grew older, the songs held different meanings for me as I began to understand the lyrics better. I gained a better understanding of the art as a whole. It grew with me.
It will continue to grow with me. Of that, I have no doubt. But I will always remember the point in time when that part of my life just… stopped moving. David Bowie was dead. My musical hero, my creative god, had left me.
How could he leave me?
But, two years later, he still hasn’t come back. So it must be real. But it can’t be. His music is still here. His voice is still here. Soothing, reassuring, calming. Sexy. Yes.
The first time I watched Labyrinth after he’d left surprised me. I’d expected to cry. But not at the parts that ended up turning me into a quivering emotional mess. I cried for all the things Labyrinth has ever meant to me. I cried for all the things Jareth, my original god, has ever meant to me.
I’ve often said to people that in order to go home, I watch Labyrinth. If that makes sense to you, I don’t need to explain. If it doesn’t, nothing else I can say will change that.
David Bowie is a big part of that going home, because after that, I sought out all his other music, and by the summer, I was watching him, seemingly from miles away, at Milton Keynes Bowl, on one of the hottest days of 1990. Miles away he may have seemed, but we were in the same place, at the same time.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven”
Whatever happened after that, there was a Bowie song right beside me, holding my hand, keeping me safe. Bowie’s voice, deep, sensual, familiar, was always there for me. Will always be there for me. No matter what happens.
I’d been moved by famous deaths before. But nothing like it up until now had ever felt so personal. I never met David in real life, but I always imagined I’d feel comfortable in his company, able to talk about anything and everything. And I always imagined he’d make me laugh. Because he was so smart, and so warm, and so funny. Always so funny.
Two years. Two years since he left us. And no matter how strong I feel I am, and how strong I know I should be,
“Something happened on the day he died”
“We can be heroes”
But it’s so hard.
And no matter how much time passes, there will never be another David Bowie. Heroes tend to become heroes for a reason. David Bowie embodied lots of reasons, to lots of people.
He was a true artist, in every sense of the word. He remained fascinated by everything, all the time. His love of life never left him. There was more art in him, waiting to burst out of him and imbue us all with his sense of wonder.
So I can never say goodbye to him. Because he’ll never really leave me. People like him make ripples in the world that leave permanent marks. There is a mark on me, and he was the one who left it there. I will treasure it forever.
Happy birthday, David. We love you.