Golden Years: Remembering David Bowie

January 11, 2016

It’s still only around 03:00 or thereabouts when I take a break from the solitaire game I’d engaged in before my second sleep, and flip over to an online screen–“just to check messages.” And there I take in something that I have to re-read to get it right, for my brain has seen it as something else, something that ordinarily would come before this terrible news.

David Bowie succumbs to cancer at 69.

Somehow I manage to fall asleep again and even rise when it’s time. I still can’t believe it. As I drive to my morning destination even the sky seems silent, mournful. It hasn’t yet begun its pinkish transition, and there is a weightiness to the clouds that hang over me. Perhaps they, too, need to cry. It occurs to me that the reason my own tears took so long to fall is because with this passing, so too passes a portion of me, of all of us and a moment in our time, and that’s really a little bit incomprehensible.

My mind travels back to my teen years, when I was on the solitary side, mainly because I had specific interests that generally entailed only my own company. I didn’t hate people and had a few fun friends, but when I was with them, I couldn’t do the stuff I wanted to do. I adored music: it has a capacity to find something deep within that hides from the world and allies itself to that thing, almost as if to say, “Here I am, partner.” It shares your sorrow as well as your joy; it can be whatever you want it to be–whatever you need it to be, gesticulating, swaying in ways that match the music flowing, careening, leaping, caressing through the air.

Lyrics are a bonus, especially if a singer or songwriter has somehow managed to capture just those right words for what we’re feeling. Like many teens (at least that I hear of today; my own son does it), I spent long hours listening to favorite songs and writing down the lyrics. I adored the soulfulness of “Golden Years,” for example.

Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel
Come get up my baby
Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young
Come get up my baby

I also wrote poetry and somehow, to me, David Bowie was poetry. His major chameleon-like personas–all of whom had come and long been replaced by the time I came to know him–and lyrics of life, as I called them, because they covered absolutely everything, strengthened the intensity of my own explorations and studies. I practically lived at the library and the pattern tended to be that whatever I read at any given time led me to another must-explore topic. In turn, I wrote about almost everything I read. If Bowie sang about it, I looked it up. That was a little weird to most people, but it gave me great satisfaction.

I was especially entranced by the instrumentals in this song,

“Lady Grinning Soul.”

So I knew all Bowie’s songs by heart and, thanks to an older brother’s rock magazines and manuals, squeezed every single detail I could out of the universe pertaining to utterly everything about this amazing singer. In turn he fed my creativity and expansion even came when I started to draw–a pursuit I had absolutely no talent in. Faces were most difficult and I can recall tracing some of them, though I no longer remember which of the ones I still have were freehand and which not. My father and brother, who were artists, were only too happy to participate in this endeavor, so what might have been a bee in the bonnet that I let go after a week or so, stretched into a yearlong excursion in which I translated many of my thoughts into images.

Drawing from my teen years
Drawing from my teen years, copied from “Low” album cover

Sometimes this can, even now, amaze me, especially when I look at the drawings I still have. They aren’t really fantastic works waiting to be discovered, not even that great, truth be told. But that’s okay, because what I remember from the time I created them is that I reached deep inside of myself to find what was there, and found…a lot, actually. This remained rather large to me because in later years I was once more to do that sort of reaching, this time to find a massive amount of strength I needed in a big way–and somehow found it.

I didn’t read a lot of poetry then, at that later time. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, and I couldn’t do it then without my voice shaking, at least the poems that meant the most to me, such as Tagore’s “Shah Jahan.” Music, however, was sort of therapeutic because when I belted out enough songs–in total privacy, mind you, because I also can’t carry a tune–I was able to draw some negative energy out and away, or engaged in a sensory kind of satisfaction that relieved a lot of pressure. Who was one of my top picks at the time? You guessed it: David Bowie. Somehow, in different ways, we always manage to come home.

“David Bowie dies of cancer at 69: His death was a work of art.”

Driving away not long after I’d arrived at my appointment, I see the pinkishness breaking through; it’s the latter part of that phase of emerging daylight. I drive a little extra, just for the comforting feel of the motor, singing a very soft version of “Golden Years,” eyes welling up as my heart seems already full of tears and, still, disbelief. I end up in the empty library parking lot. Peering out over the early morning wakefulness of the ducks in their pond, I look up to see magnificent blue pouring all around the clouds. They look dark in some areas, and maybe even heavy with rain threatening to fall. But the startling blue asserts its presence and I shift gears and head toward home once more.

Look at that sky, life’s begun

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Mr. David Bowie, thank you for the music, and rest in peace.

*********

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