The other day, I was about halfway through a piece on David Bowie's outstanding, genre-annihilating new album, Blackstar. Today, I write something new, a head full of Starman-studded memories, eyes damp with real tears.
2007 -- Scholes St., Brooklyn, NY. All of us are wearing wigs. I see a cotton candy blue bob on the hostess; she will one day become my wife under the stars of a muggy June night. Our orbits weave, and I am spinning, drunk on wine from the bottle or an Ikea cup, and happy. There's a wig on the dancefloor known as The Bowie, not proclaimed, just known. In retrospect it's only an approximation of the Ziggy Stardust (it's hay-colored, not crimson, and doesn't quite party in the back), but it's a signifier. Putting it on feels powerful, like a ritual headdress or a crown. The Bowie is communal, it is shared as we share wobbly steps to "Fame," "Young Americans" and "Let's Dance," air-guitarring Carlos Alomar and Nile Rodgers, trying to strut only the way the Man Who Fell to Earth could. "Let's Dance" will reverberate seven years later in a farmland field, and everyone will revel with us on a muggy June night.
1994 -- East Rock Rd., New Haven, Conn. Television went in stages when I was a kid -- sometimes we had it, sometimes we didn't. So maybe it was this year, maybe it was later when I heard Nirvana's gritty Unplugged version of "The Man Who Sold The World," Kurt straining and making those notes his. Bowie's best songs are imbued with the same magic dust as jazz standards -- they seem to enter the cultural repertoire so easily, so naturally, as if cave painters were humming "Life on Mars" while they worked. I like the Nirvana version, and somewhere in my pre-teen heart I feel that music is more than I know, and that I want to explore it.
2016 -- Metro-North, N.Y. The "Blackstar" video floored me in November of 2015. I hadn't kept up with Bowie beyond grabbing a frayed vinyl copy of Diamond Dogs in a Tacoma antique shop, but the genesis of his new band was enchanting. I'm in the throes of "Girl Loves Me," and instead of opening my laptop to work on my own compositions, I begin writing about this fiery and fluid new collaboration. It's soothing and agitating. I write phrases like "harmonic gusto" and decide the record's "bedrock is both seasoned and encyclopedic." I go into detail about his band, one of so many to feature unparalleled musicianship, realizing that this man is not content to repeat himself, yet his message of love, change and identity is steadfast. I have this Wayne Shorter quote I want to use, "We should use the best of the past like a flashlight into the future," because I believe in Bowie's light. "Where the fuck did Monday go?" he sings, and now it is Monday and his beautiful, shapeshifting, thin white vessel is gone. His music continues to breathe as it always will, and the alien quality we ascribe to it is perhaps the best of what's inside us all.
2009 -- Criterion Cinemas, New Haven, Conn. I am in love with Moon. It is quiet and unhurried, a Kubrickian update. Bowie's son directs it, and I realize Bowie has a human son.
2004 -- Whitney Ave., Volkswagen Jetta, Conn. I still listen to the radio, classic rock, WPLR 99.1. I sing along to "All The Young Dudes" and get Mott the Hoople confused with Manfred Mann.
2011 -- Prospect Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. She's wigless now, and we are snug in a blanket fort watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Bowie struts again, this time into an FBI office as linen-suited Phillip Jeffries, recounting a wretched Black Lodge sequence. "We lived inside a dream," he says over a flashback, before disappearing with a banshee scream. "He was never here," says Albert Rosenfield. "He was here," counters Dale Cooper as they replay security camera tape. "But where did he go?" wonders Gordon Cole. It is fitting.
I've been shuffling David Bowie songs all day, and I can only conclude by my labored exhalations, air drumming and occasional moist eyes that his fifty-year career is a living wellspring. From the parading French horns of "Rubber Band" to the sinewy, future jazz of his Blackstar band, the man took risks and "just [made] great music, without worrying about categories," says Let's Dance producer Nile Rodgers. With the demise of the record store goes the need for categorization -- in the digital landscape, there's a greater chance at equity, niches and the stylistic splicing that Bowie always practiced. He will remain an inspiration not only to musicians, but to people, humans. Let your freak flag fly, cut your hair or don't, dance; find your voice and shape the clay of your own reality. And try a wig sometime, it's fun.