I believe that in years to come we will ask each other, “Where were you when David Bowie died?” Like most people in the western hemisphere, I was asleep when he died on January 10, 2016, but I can still feel how my heart sank when I heard the news on my way to work the next day. The radio announcers had put together a rushed tribute to the Man on Mars, which provided the soundtrack to my disbelieving grief, leaving me crying silently under my sunglasses to the familiar baritone foretelling the Starman’s landing, professing his love to Bob Dylan, celebrating a rebellious cross dresser and, finally, singing to us from heaven. Evidently, I never met the man behind the voice (didn’t even have the chance to see him live), but for some reason his death affected me more than any other celebrity’s. What is it about David Bowie’s demise that still haunts me to this day?
I had come across him in Labyrinth at 5 years old (my favourite movie as a child), but I didn’t discover Bowie’s music until I was 13. I must have listened to My Chemical Romance’s cover of “Under Pressure” a million times before I realised it wasn’t an original song, which I found out after googling the lyrics. From then on, I was hooked. I devoured album after album, charmed by Bowie’s intellectual yet simple lyrics accompanied by every music genre imaginable. While his music alone was exceptional, what fascinated me most about David Bowie was his ability to reimagine himself as characters such as Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke and Major Tom.
Anyone can say that they love Bowie’s music, and everyone can identify with at least one of his songs, but my admiration for him goes beyond his work. David Bowie was a real rebel and, aside from his eccentricities, was committed to making a change. In an interview for BBC Newsnight in 1999, he explained that he had become a musician because, at the time, “it seemed rebellious [and] subversive,” given the amount of censure on the radio. In this same interview, he foresaw the potential of the internet as a tool for rebellion, going as far as to say that if he had been 19 in the early ‘90s, he would have gotten involved in web development rather than music. While he was a very intelligent man, he never took himself too seriously. He wasn’t afraid to get involved in projects that others may have deemed beneath him—like his cameo in the movie Zoolander—and constantly laughed at himself during interviews.
David Bowie was many things to many people. Personally, he was my childhood’s fear, my teenage angst and my quarter life crisis’ relief. He was doing music long before I was born (or planned) making him a constant in my life; he had always been there, so why wouldn’t he be for years to come? David Bowie dying affected me so deeply because, to an extent, his work and personality are a part of who I am. I spent my teen years dancing to him and learning more about the man behind the music, only to find out that underneath his makeup and high heels, he was more like us than I ever thought.
I still miss David Bowie. We have lived in a world without Bowie for four years now and my heart still aches for him. I still miss David Bowie. To this day I can’t listen to his songs without feeling a ping of emptiness. Two days after Bowie released his last album Blackstar, he died from liver cancer. His death reminds us that not all heroes live forever, but his work and the characters he created will keep his memory alive.
Feature Graphic by Kate Orlova