When I woke up this morning, I didn’t expect to learn that David Bowie was dead. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve come to grips with it, partly because David Bowie never quite seemed mortal, or even human – if his notorious late-70s diet of bell peppers, milk, and cocaine couldn’t kill him, what could? I think I sort of figured he’d be here forever, hanging around the periphery of pop culture and making occasional appearances to remind the world that he’s still here, and he’s still cooler than you.
I took David Bowie for granted.
I hate myself for admitting that. David Bowie is the last sort of musician anyone should ever take for granted; sure, it’s easy to let “Changes” or “Suffragette City” or “Space Oddity” be assumed parts of any classic rock radio station’s Saturday afternoon rotation. It’s easy (for someone my age, at least) to forget how innovative and visionary and fearlessly weird he was. But in some ways, the ease with which Bowie is accepted is the greatest testament to his work.
The best possible thing that I can say right now is that this isn’t one of those tragedies where an underappreciated or overlooked genius dies too young. David Bowie was certainly both appreciated and loved, which still feels bizarre to think about – and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a common trope for an artist as unabashedly eccentric or sonically adventurous as Bowie to be met with cold rejection or to have a few hits and be forgotten, but fortunately that’s never been the case with him. I’m not usually one to be overly complimentary towards the larger music-listening populace, but we did good this time, guys.
David Bowie was one of the weirdest performers to ever reach mainstream success, but he doesn’t – didn’t – feel like an outsider. Instead, he felt like a pillar.
The most defining characteristic of David Bowie’s music – or in fact, his life – is to me the sense of self-assuredness that drove everything he did. He made genuinely strange music by pop standards (and a ton of it, too) but it’s impossible to find a single note that doesn’t seem acutely and brazenly intentional, or that’s there without reason, or that even exists without a certain coy knowingness that he’s doing something you either wouldn’t think – or wouldn’t have the balls – to do. David Bowie didn’t accidentally stumble into success; he brought success to himself.
I’ve heard others say that David Bowie existed before his time. To be frank, I think we still exist before David Bowie’s time. Our world is one where you’re encouraged to follow footsteps, to fit in boxes, to fall in line. As far as music is concerned, David Bowie was the brightest glimpse I’ve ever witnessed of a world where none of those things are the case, where uniqueness is met with recognition and praise, where non-conformity is backed by confidence and purpose and never self-doubt.
It’s hard to imagine a world that no longer has David Bowie. I’m hopeful, though, that he left enough behind for us to make a pretty good start. If there’s anything you should take from his life and the vast outpouring of love he’s received today and over the years, it’s that every single one of us is capable of brilliant weirdness, and that our weirdness can and should and will be met with appreciation.
Take some time this week to go through Bowie's catalogue, for the first time or for the thousandth. You'll be thankful you did.