Saying Goodbye

Yesterday evening, while dinner was cooking on the BBQ – a wonderful Australian summer tradition – I came into the house to look at my phone, mostly to stop myself from checking the yummy things too often.

The Guardian was saying David Bowie had died. At first I thought (I hoped) it was a hoax. I walked outside and told my partner. I started to cry.

It was a surreal moment, one that I won’t forget. I’m certain there are many of you out there who will have similar memories of where you were and what you were doing when you heard that Bowie was dead.

For me and many of my generation, David Bowie was much, much more than an incredibly talented musician, a brilliant showman, a fabulous and insightful songwriter, a trend setter.

He was one of us – another misfit, a freak who didn’t fit into the mainstream, who kept kicking against what we were told was “right”. He gave us hope, and for many of us, gave us a reason to keep going on days when the world could look a very dark place.

I was in love with Bowie from the first time I heard Space Oddity in the very late 60’s when I was still in primary school in a small country town. By the time he released Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1972, I was on that hideous roller coaster called puberty, and my mother was (perhaps with some cause) starting to worry about me. All my school friends were into Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. A few of us were listening to The Who, Clapton, The Plastic Ono Band and The Doors (particularly L.A. Woman) but we were a minority and considered pretty weird by our fellows.

I remember we were allowed in early high school to bring posters of our favourite pop stars to decorate the classroom. I took a poster of the cover of Hunky Dory, with Bowie doing his best Lauren Bacall impersonation and the teacher asked me who “she” was. When I told her it was David Bowie, I had to take the poster home with a concerned note for my parents. For a while I tried to fit in, but who was I kidding? And there was this amazing, skinny, obviously drug addled English guy who was telling me it was okay to be different and not be a sheep.

Throughout the years, I kept coming back to Bowie and his current works. Not just for entertainment, (though that was mostly mighty fine) but for inspiration and instruction for my personal arts practice. In particular, Bowie’s interpretations of Jacques Brel and Bertold Brecht were and remain profoundly important to me. Also, it was an ongoing reassurance that it was still okay to be different. Actively embracing change and personal reinvention is an important part of my life thanks to him.

All these years later, I still come back to Bowie’s music and continually find new lessons in my craft.

Although I never met the man and sadly, never had to opportunity to see him live on stage, I feel like I’ve lost a favourite, incredibly chic, slightly disreputable uncle. You know, the one who takes you out partying when you’re still under age with a “hush, don’t tell your parents we did this” conspiratorial wink.

And when my time comes, I hope I’ll have the strength of character to make something as beautiful and powerful as Blackstar and, in particular write a song as gloriously human as Lazarus. 

Along with the rest of the planet, my thoughts are with his family and friends in these incredibly sad days.

Vale David Bowie, and thank you from the bottom of my still fiercely independent heart ❤