There are bigger Bowie fans than me in the world, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. In fact, calling myself a Bowie fan often felt disingenuous; with many of his songs I could hardly tell you which album they came from and there aren’t many of those albums that I would regularly listen through from top to bottom. Compared to my obsessive, encyclopaedic knowledge of the entire discography of Bruce Springsteen, my status as a Bowie fan was casual at best.
Except it wasn’t really. It was just different.
The first time I ever really heard his music I was fourteen, sitting in my parents’ office at home and Space Oddity came on the radio. I remember sitting there, totally transfixed by this bizarre, haunting song and feeling this overpowering sense of sadness at the end of it. At the time, I wasn’t all that good at the internet and so, while this weird song I’d once heard stuck with me, it took me years to learn who actually sang it.
My Bowie fandom didn’t really come to life until my final year of high school. I had started watching the brilliant BBC series Life on Mars, named after a song I didn’t know. But when it played for the first time in the scene where police officer Sam Tyler gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, I had to pause the show and look up this song, because I knew upon hearing it that I had just found a lifelong favourite. And for the next few months, no day went by when I didn’t listen to that song at least five times.
But Life on Mars (show and song) proved to be a gateway drug to more Bowie, and I cannot overstate how many of his songs became very special to me in that time. Ziggy Stardust, Ashes to Ashes, Five Years, Rock and Roll Suicide, Cat People, China Girl, Under Pressure, Changes, Heroes; David Bowie was the soundtrack for the last months of my high school life, and those songs still create an overpowering sense of nostalgia every time I hear them. There are so many beautiful, beloved memories that are pretty much scored in my head by certain Bowie songs. And many other songs became new favourites in the following years, accompanying new memories. Because that’s the kind of artist he was; someone who had music for every emotion and occasion, who offered new things on every repeated listen, and who could evoke the same feeling each time one of his songs started as you had the first time you ever heard it. You don’t get bored of Bowie.
There are people in the world who scoff at the idea of crying when a celebrity dies, and hey, on a surface level I get it. I never met David Bowie. I never even saw him live. I don’t know what kind of person he was behind closed doors, what his hobbies were or how he got on with the people in his life. But people like Bowie aren’t significant for who they were as people; they are significant for what they gave to the world, and how what they gave had the magic ability to mean so many different things to different people. It’s the kind of music that can bring back memories or offer comfort in bad times or, and maybe this was Bowie’s most unique quality, make you feel like you are a million miles away, floating among the stars and separated from the rest of the world. Music that could make us feel special. Music that maybe offered us a glimpse of how spectacular it must have been to be David Bowie. And in doing that, he gave us more than he ever owed. More than anyone has ever owed the rest of the world.
It’s tragic that he is no longer here. But the biggest feeling I have now isn’t one of loss; it’s one of gratitude that we ever got to share some of his magic and more than anything, that that magic will never go away.
Thank you for all of it David.
Writing words about writing words.