2016 has gotten off to a pretty rough start; re: witnessing Earth's mightiest music heroes fall. So many of our great pioneers are reaching the age where perhaps their earlier lifestyle choices may have begun to catch up with them. Sadly, I don't see this new trend is musician deaths slowing any time soon. For a guy such as myself who worships the people who came about from the 1960's - the 1980's, I'm getting more and more prepared to watch an entire generation fall over the next 20 years. I don't mean to sound so morose, death comes for us all, afterall. Perhaps a brighter twist? Ok, let's consider it a changing of the guard. I suppose it's time for all us fine young folks to step up the plate and really do our jobs. The seasoned generation won't be around much longer to pick up our slack. So get to work.
But to name just a few who have passed since the proverbial and literal ball dropped....Glenn Frey, Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister, Maurice White, Alan Rickman (ok, actor), and as I'm writing this, news rolls in of Denise Matthews, aka Vanity. But the one that seemed to hit us the hardest? Mr. David Bowie. It's been just over a month, and it is still fresh on my mind, still something that is difficult to swallow. People are still sharing articles, posting up tribute shows, performing his songs in tribute. Here's my own "eulogy" that I penned in the wee early hours of January 11th, having not slept a wink that night after hearing of his death:
I spent the entire night and into the morning tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Overcome by this foreign and strange emotion I was feeling. It was a sense of mourning forced upon me. Not the same way I would mourn had I lost a relative or friend, but I am in a strange form of shock. I'm not sure how to process losing someone I didn't know personally, having never even met them, but who meant so much to me and had such a profound impact on my life. All the while being very mindful not to make this sadness all about ME, understanding that his death effect so many people the world over. I'm careful to not selfishly claim that my connection to him was stronger than your's. Everyone dies including celebrities, it's sad. You think to yourself "oh how sad" and then you move on. The last celebrity death that effected me was Loud Reed. But I knew Lou. I met him, shook his hand, he was a fan of my music and told me so. I could tell he was ill, frail, run down. But even Lou's death didn't me the way this one hit me. David Bowie, this is a different feeling. A new feeling.
He was my number one. My all-time favorite. My biggest influence and my biggest inspiration. The man who got me hooked on music, show-business and performance. The artist for which I was a complete fanatic. The REASON I've made music all these years and the reason I continue to grind away at some lowly semblance of a career.
David Bowie and his music taught me to be fearless with my writing, to take risks and break conventions. His influence has seeped into every song I've ever written and recorded, be it the melody, vocal arrangement, chords or production choices. He was completely fearless in his musical choices, threw away conventional chord change and melodic comfort zones, yet still managed to maintain a certain pop sensibility.
He taught me the importance of image, of showmanship, creating shapes and colors that surround your music to enhance the entire experience. He taught me that you must become something greater than just a mere mortal in order to make an impact on society.
Always ahead of the curve, always adapting, changing with the times, yet one step ahead of the rest of us. Always leading the way into what would come next, while maintaining his signature sounds and visions. He left his footprint on almost every variety of Rock n' Roll.
Elvis Costello (another major influence on me) is another "Genremeleon". He can write a song in any genre, completely immerse himself into it and it's always awesome. But Elvis Costello embeds himself into that genre. David Bowie, on the other hand, brings the genre TO him, makes it his bitch.
He was the definition of the term Rockstar. Also, Popstar, STAR, Artist, Icon, Legend. He was charismatic, transcendent, sexy, handsome, pretty, androgynous, broke down the laws of attraction. I DON'T KNOW ANYBODY ELSE WHO CAN DON A SUIT QUITE LIKE THIS MAN CAN.
He was a weirdo, an alien, more than a man, broke molds of beauty, style, fashion and sex appeal. He made a pop audience use their ears and their brains.
He rolled with just the coolest of cool. Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Freddy Mercury, John Lennon, Annie Lenox, Trent Reznor, Brian Eno, to name a few.
He helped skyrocket the careers of some brilliant producers and musicians, Tony Visconti, Mick Ronson, Earl Slick, Reeves Gabrels, Adrian Belew, Gail Ann Dorsey and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
I was a weird kid, a weird teenager. Awkward, angry, angsty, you name it. Bowie's music was the soundtrack to my adolescence. I learned to play and sing by singing his songs. (My singing style is based on so many years of copying him, then so many years trying desperately to sound like myself!) I was 15, wearing pleather pants and eye-liner, blasting through "Suffragette City" with my band. I'd try to turn my friends onto "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" and all the ever cheesy, rightfully under-appreciated Black Tie, White Noise album (not his best work, but I listened to all of it). At 18, my friends and I would get high at 5:30 in the morning listening to The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars while the sun rose, analyzing the perfect fade outs and spacing between songs, song order, production, etc. It is a perfect album, by the way.
Now I'm 33, graying, lonely and broke. (By the time Bowie was my age he had already released 14 studio and 2 live albums). Struggling to make sense out of my own music career while navigating this tumultuous, crumbling industry. But every time I feel like throwing in the towel, I can still put on a Bowie record and it revitalizes my ambition and drive to keep going. Because if there are people out there who appreciated the work he did, just maybe they might also appreciate the work I do. Worst case scenario, if I fall flat on my face, I will always have my fandom. I will always have his body of work to listen to and love. I will always have his glamorous image burned into my head. That, I take with me to the grave.
I've listened to Blackstar numerous times since it came out. I was tremendously impressed and moved with the entire record right away, not knowing his death was imminent. Of course, as I write this early in the morning, it has become more apparent that it was his goodbye. His self penned Requiem, his swan song. It is by far his greatest work. The most personally revealing, life to art, experimental and beautiful piece of music I've heard. With or without his death looming over it. Please take a listen. (The WHOLE album, start to finish. Don't be lazy!)
Again, I didn't know David Bowie personally. I've never met him, never shook his hand, never even walked past him on the streets of New York. (Though I was lucky enough to see him in concert twice). I won't mourn for him the way I would a close friend or relative. But there's something incredibly uncomfortable about the way this feels. I'm not sure if I have permission to cry, but I certainly want to.
Not my father, not my friend. My hero.