I’m not usually one to eulogize the dead – particularly celebrities I’ve never met – but in ruminating on the loss of David Bowie today, the degree to which the man has been omnipresent in my life since I first took a serious interest in music is pretty well unmatched by any other artist, so I felt like putting some of it into words.
The first LP I can remember purchasing of my own volition was a weathered copy of Changesonebowie. I bought it in tandem with a cheap belt drive turntable from the now-abandoned thrift store about a mile from my house in the eighth grade. I’d spun Abbey Road a few times on my parents’ old Garrard, but this deck, slim and silver with the remnants of a heart-shaped sticker that I never managed to remove on the dust cover, was my first real foray in a world of records old and new that would rapidly consume me. I have copious memories of digging around in that store’s cardboard boxes and milk crates of LPs, including one anecdote wherein I bought Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones for a dollar and quickly resold it because “Underground” creeped me out too much, which is especially dumb in retrospect. That Bowie compilation, however, is the one record I remember buying from that place and immediately loving. At the time I associated Bowie with some classic rock radio canon I really had no understanding of yet, but “Space Oddity”‘s eerily anthemic qualities and that immortal “Rebel Rebel” chorus felt far more intriguing than whatever else I was buying just then.
In the next couple of years I spent many Sundays at the Raynam Flea Market with my dad, who patiently supported (often financially) me digging through miles of old records, usually sold by a guy named Wayne. I collected most of the Bowie discography, including a copy of Ziggy Stardust that I’ve probably spun more times than any other record I’ve ever owned. Glam Bowie gave way to Berlin Bowie, through which I got to Iggy Pop’s ’77 solo records then backwards to The Stooges, and where I learned of the existence of Brian Eno, whom I eventually traced to the Talking Heads….etc.
But Bowie wasn’t just present in record collecting exploits. When his songs wound up in films, they felt just as important to me as whatever was happening on screen. Those acoustic Bowie covers performed by Seu Jorge throughout Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, and the triumphant airing of “Queen Bitch” at its conclusion, contribute hugely to the weird magic of that film, which remains one of my favorites. That use of “Cat People” in Inglorious Basterds is one of Tarantino’s greatest soundtrack choices in a career full of them.
As an aside to that, lest we forget his immortal four-minute turn in Fire Walk With Me.
And then there’s just moments that stick in my head. When I first got my license a couple weeks after a dumb high school breakup, I remember driving around with my best friend for the first time, listening to Ziggy. Riding around the Cape with some friends of disparate musical tastes last summer, someone randomly put on “Space Oddity” in the middle of a sunny day – not the setting I typically associate the song with – but we blasted the whole thing, because “Space Oddity” is a goddamn miracle of a song in any setting. “Heroes” was an essential component of my last college radio broadcast, and that was a couple years after we paid tribute to the Berlin trilogy in our ongoing series of Photoshopped record covers.
And the insane thing about Bowie is that throughout all those memories and associations that are important and meaningful to me, I barely scratch the surface of the man’s body of work, or my own interactions with it. Hell, I still haven’t seen The Man Who Fell to Earth, despite being fascinated by the coked-out paranoia of Station to Station for years. And today, I don’t think any of us can quite wrap our heads around Blackstar as Bowie’s concept album about his own death.
My point in all this is that as I thought about Bowie today, I found myself amazed at the various ways, big and small, that he’s impacted my own life. And looking around the internet this morning, I realized how universal that feeling is. The number of friends, acquaintances, writers, musicians and others whose Facebook or Twitter posts popped up on my screen sharing songs and memories was overwhelming. Bowie was everywhere, and even in death, he always will be.