On Bowie, creativity and changes

Photo taken during cover shoot for Aladdin Sane. Bowie 1947-2016. Photo from the  Victoria & Albert Museum .

Photo taken during cover shoot for Aladdin Sane. Bowie 1947-2016. Photo from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

To a fellow who blurred the lines, kept working and kept creating, thanks. David Bowie died today, and this post was a long-short time in the making.

Circumstances in coincidence from my recent life led to this. Only recently I was talking with a friend about the prolific Bowie. He kept changing himself, unabashedly. He tried new things in strange music and brought some of the most memorable riffs in Rock n' Roll. He was glam, far better than Cooper was. He was the prototype for Hedwig's character in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." He also put on the polish far better than anyone else when he killed off Ziggy Stardust. He recorded God knows how many albums, influenced fashion, attitudes and made it OK for a generation of people who were in that gray area of sexuality to feel themselves out.

  • Just the other day someone brought up face paint and mentioned Ziggy Stardust. That was heavy makeup. The faceprint came later (see above photo).
  • A week or so later I caught onto a classic Bowie hook, from "Rebel, Rebel." Waang-wa-na-na-na-nah-nah-na-na-na-na-na!
  • Back in December I played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, an album that was part of my college soundtrack, through hazy post-dorm days. I'd blast it while driving my 1991 Toyota Camry around. And after the zillionth listen, knowing it front-and-back, singing "Rock and Roll Suicide" in perhaps my greatest karaoke moment ever, I had to put it away. In one single evening, the tunes were a soundtrack for bad memories of a never-ending night with strangers that I prefer not to relive. And while I hope they're all doing well, I don't really want to see them again.

But it was December this past year when I broke Ziggy Stardust back out, on a road trip, with my wife slumbering in the passenger seat. I'm not quite the night owl I once was, and my amphetamine of choice is and always has been caffeine. On this most recent listen of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, I figured that it gives a guidebook on how to become a rock star, how to be an asshole to people who helped your rise to fame and what you'll have when you crash back to Earth. Not too much.

I won't tell you that Bowie influenced me personally in any significant way. I didn't grab on to a fashion of his, but I would subscribe to a sensibility of duty to creativity.

It was the conversation about Aladdin Sane that led me to really wrap my head around the idea that one could continue to create over a lifetime. Sure, Bowie's life not the only example. Saul Bellow wrote throughout his life, as did Twain. And musicians I know will be playing until they can't pick up an instrument. Tom Waits keeps doing his thing as well. And standup comics like Marc Maron and Louis C.K. are always working on a new hour. We will keep seeing things from Tina Fey for years to come, and certainly we can expect and have seen the same from across like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Pablo Picasso took his creativity seriously, and worked at it every single day. But that wealth of effort to keep moving, keep trying new things - that's what's inspiring about Bowie's creative career. He released an album the day before he died. And was working on a musical play with Michael C. Hall (who I saw in "Hedwig" 16 months ago) in New York. I just read the story about it in a magazine.

The moral of this life, at least for the creative people out there: Keep making things. Make them as good as you can. They can be poignant, weird or funny. Just make things. Maybe, if you hit it just right, you can help some people along in their lives with the stuff you make. Drawing from the introduction to his obit in The New Yorker:

Because he had been so many people over the course of his grand and immense career, it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t continue to be many people—a myriad of folks in a beautiful body who would reflect times to come, times none of us could imagine but that he could. He always got to the unknown first.

That said, how many people have been helped through times of various emotional significance or complexity with "Changes," "All The Young Dudes," or "Under Pressure"?

And, in death, doesn't it feel like he got to the unknown first just one more time?

Listening to: Hunky Dory