David Bowie is dead.
Those words don’t seem real yet. I can’t make myself believe them.
My husband sat on the edge of the bed this morning and told me to stay in bed as long as I could. I asked why. He said today was a day I would want to put off as long as possible. Again, I asked why.
“David Bowie is dead” he said.
I didn’t believe him at first. Then I came downstairs, opened up Facebook and the tears haven’t stopped flowing since. I’ve never cried over a celebrity death before. I’ve been deeply saddened by the deaths of people whose work moved me, but never to the point of tears. So why am I crying over Bowie?
Because David Bowie wasn’t just a celebrity. He was so much more. It feels like there aren’t words enough to express what he was and what he meant, but I’m a writer and so I have to try. It’s the only way I have to make sense out of this.
I discovered Bowie when I was 16. Oh, I’d heard his music before then. Modern Love, China Girl. It was the 80s and he was into his commercial dance music period. I didn’t find it all that interesting – still don’t, in fact – so I didn’t pay much attention.
When I was 16, I saw Bowie live for the first time. It was 1987’s Glass Spider Tour and here’s where I must stop and make a confession. I went mainly to see Duran Duran, who were opening. I was desperately in love with John Taylor. Bowie wasn’t even on my radar. I walked out of that concert a complete and utter Bowie convert.
The stage was designed to look like a huge spider. The legs glowed different colours. Bowie had brought a modern dance troupe on tour with him and everywhere I looked, there was someone climbing on the scaffolding, or enacting some intricate dance steps. Bowie himself made his entrance by descending from the ceiling, seated on a swing while singing into an oversize telephone. I had never seen anything like it.
From then on, I immersed myself in all things Bowie. He wasn’t just a brilliant musician. He was a screen and stage actor who trained as a mime. He was a painter and visual artist who created painstaking dioramas and whiteboards for his elaborate stage shows. He seemed so utterly fearless, throwing himself into new mediums, new artistic personas and not caring if they failed.
But still, none of that explains why I’m crying. I loved Bowie because he was a freak. A glamourous, glitter-covered, queer, gender-bending freak. An unapologetic hedonist and experimenter who thrived on taking risks. He was everything that I wasn’t then and wasn’t sure I ever could be. I was shy, awkward and desperately uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt like I had to hide who I really was under an unconvincing and ill-fitting disguise of normality.
Bowie made it OK for the freaks, the outcasts and the misfits to be who they were. The permission he gave himself to let his freak flag wave strong and proud was permission given to all of us, and we loved him for it. The punks, the goths, the glam kids, the queers, the ones who reject any kind of label at all. Without him, many of us might not be here. Because to go through life feeling rejected and invisible is a deep and unique kind of pain, and far too many succumb to it.
And that’s why I’m crying. Because he gave me so much strength and courage and hope. Thank you David, for my life.