It seems like only days ago that I penned something like this for dear old Lemmy. All my heroes are dying, it seems.
Some time ago, I posted something – I believe it was in reference to the anniversary of the death of Joe Strummer – wherein I ruminated about the day after John Lennon was murdered. I remember watching all the television coverage as a confused 13-year-old. It seemed like the entirety of Central Park West outside of the Dakota was flooded with mourners at a vigil, and I remember images of people bursting into tears. Later that day, a somewhat cynical teacher of mine churlishly pointed out that these same individuals only seemed to burst into tears when the cameras hit them. That comment still bothers me.
By the same token, I didn’t fully understand, at the time, why people who clearly didn’t know the man were crying. I loved Lennon's music, understood the loss and was horrified by the senselessness of it, but I couldn’t reconcile tears for someone you just admired.
Decades later, when Joe Strummer died, I found myself revisiting that thought. While, no, I’d certainly never met the fabled Clash frontman, his music meant a very great deal to me, and by all accounts he seemed like a great, noble, thoughtful and deeply compassionate man. I don’t remember if I cried, but it certainly knocked the wind out of my sails.
There have been big ones since then, of course – notably the Ramones, the great Lou Reed and the afore-cited Lemmy. In those instances, I was genuinely crestfallen and at a loss.
But Bowie … that’s just something entirely different.
Given the breadth, influence and impact of his work, it’s hard to encapsulate – to my mind – the loss of David Bowie as just another rock star. I mean, musically speaking, there isn’t a single artist I can name who wasn’t at least indelibly informed by Bowie.
In my eulogy for Lemmy, I paraphrased my friend Iann when he mentioned that we hadn’t lost a big one, but we’d lost THE big one. As much of a blow as it was, however, it was always a given that it was going to happen. It’s also somewhat laborious to assert that it was surprising that it didn’t happen sooner, given his fabled rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
But I don’t think anyone really believed we were going to lose David Bowie. I know that sounds like ridiculous hyperbole, but he truly seemed larger than life in every conceivable manner. And with the exception of the surviving Beatles and maybe the Stones, I can’t think of anyone that even comes close to Bowie in terms of stature and cultural impact. Again, so much more than simply “a rock star.”
Again, when Lemmy died, the accolades and the anecdotes flowed out of me without much prompting (or, as I’m frequently heard to say, “like sewage”). The post I penned practically wrote itself.
But the loss of Bowie hit me this morning on an entirely different level. When a favorite musician or rock star or celeb or public figure passes, it can be the veritable end of an era and/or a humbling reminder of one’s own mortality (the passing of Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch – who was my own age – was like that for me). But the sudden removal of David Bowie from the proceedings just leaves me agape and incredulous.
As I posted on Facebook… Honestly, how’s this all supposed to work without Bowie?
This is the part, I guess, wherein I’d cite the anecdotes wherein I once spotted him on University Place and in the balcony at Webster Hall during a Secret Machines gig, but those seem so entirely incidental in the grand scheme of things. There have been remarkably eloquent and moving pieces published all over the place today – and I can’t compete with those.
Suffice to say that I was already emotionally at a loss for that same reason I can’t really get into, and feeling quite out of my depth, and then along comes news that David Bowie is dead. It’s almost too much to process.
An old friend and former colleague of mine, however, Lesley wrote something that, for me, really summed it up.
David Bowie's exit is perfectly in keeping with his life and five decades of outrageous, gorgeous, canny work. He managed to keep his illness out of the news (how is that even possible now?), preserving his privacy. He made a last album, a clear artistic working through of what was happening to him, lived until its release, then quietly slipped away two days later. The man who had survived so much and shed so many skins leaves us a singular, unparalleled body of work. But he's gone, and there will be no more. R.I.P., restless soul, we will miss you forever.
Lastly, while it was probably “Suffragette City” (via my older sister Victoria’s much-loved copy of ChangesBowie) that initially sunk its hooks into me, I discovered the song below some years later and it has stayed resonant with me ever since. Bowie himself said of this song:
"It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they're left outside, which was how I felt about me. I always felt I was on the edge of events, the fringe of things, and left out."
So, to say that it's the end of an era or a reminder of our mortality just doesn't seem to capture this, or not for me, anyway.
Collectively we have lost someone truly irreplaceable, and the world is a strikingly less richer place for it.
And it's perfectly understandable to cry.