A Remembrance of David Bowie
It’s perhaps a little late for it, years into his career, but perhaps that’s just when it felt real enough. When stardom was in his grasp, and all he had to do was reach out and take it. In retrospect, “Star” sounds like a mission statement, even a manifesto. Bowie started the song in 1970, tinkered with it on and off over that year and the next before finally recording it for his upcoming album. 1971 was a cusp year for Bowie, and a sense of make or break pervades the entire album of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Tellingly, Bowie’s vision of stardom includes both make and break. Bowie would both be Buddha and kill him on the road.)
“Star” is one of the most optimistic songs on the album, full of Warholian ambitions. Bowie sings of a Transformation, even a World Mutation (the capitals are quite audible). Did he intuit, even then, that one day he’d need to kill Ziggy? It’s hard not to feel that he understood, already, the need to be protean. Bowie as shapechanger, as trickster, switching effortlessly from heart-on-sleeve passion to above-it-all cynicism and back again. Endlessly. (Ask any student of the tarot: death is just another transformation.)
Bowie, at every point in his career, is an outsider artist. Even in his Eighties incarnation, as pop music royalty, as one of those who sat enthroned above the system, there’s a sense of subversiveness. At any point, like his goblin prince Jareth, he’ll reveal that his authority figure status is just another act, just another character. (If you cower, he’ll be frightening. Yes and, right?) And even if that never happens, at some point he’ll be bored with it, and go do something else.
To me, and I suspect to many another misfit, that was the most alluring thing about Bowie. It’s not that he made it okay to be weird, or to be artistic, or to be queer, although he did those things too. It’s that he made it okay to be, in the eyes of the external world at least, inconsistent. Bowie’s integrity as an artist was writ most large in his unpredictability. He was always Bowie, but what Bowie was changed constantly. Other artists might become golden oldies, but Bowie was always mercurial. Bowie was Ziggy and Jareth and the Thin White Duke and so many more, sometimes simultaneously. It’s never better encapsulated than here:
Which one is the real Bowie?
I don’t think it matters.
In the end, this is what I’ll remember him for. Not for being perfect. Certainly not for easily comprehensible lyrics. But for being himself, even when that self was a surprise to everyone around him (and at times, it seemed, to him too). For taking himself so very seriously, and not seriously at all. For the stream of his consciousness. For his endless reinvention.
He did not die. He could never die. Death is just another transformation. David Bowie simply moved on: