Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
Dance to the song they're playing on the radio
While color lights up your face
Sway through the crowd in an empty space.
Like many in my generation David Bowie came to me via MTV and the 1983 single “Let’s Dance”. Back then I soaked it all up with equanimity: Prince, New Edition, Duran Duran – it all blurred together, the avant-garde and homemade at once, and right there on TV. Television as a delivery system wasn’t new of course, but the nonstop streaming of sounds and images certainly was; unbeknownst to me one of the great pinnacles of Bowie’s career had arrived.
Later, much later, in college, and post college, and then post post college, Bowie’s catalog became more known to me. My gay friends referenced him a lot as a visual icon and tastemaker. Staring at the album covers for Low or Heroes and at his presentation, well, how could one not be influenced by it? But for me Bowie was chained to the ethos and mannerisms of Rock n Roll, and if I did not get fed via Disco or the New Wave, well, I didn’t get fed. But certain people inevitably brought Bowie back into the mix.
With his passing I now realize just how saturated Bowie is in music, fashion, and culture. With my head deep in the clubs little did I understand how important David was to every pop movement since ’69. While he never delivered a gay image per se (I was always looking for them) he was the queerest mix of outsider and insider. In the 70s, with his taste for costumes and the outré, I see him today as THE great facilitator: never settling down to one pose for fear his antennae would miss the signals and fail to bring about the next.
I see it now – Bowie had been a deep influence. Without him would Punk, Glam, Krautrock, Ambient, Electronica, New Wave or Disco be the same? David was brave. He was kind. And it seems he was completely alone in bringing it all down to America - bringing it to me. We certainly would not have his truest heir, Madonna. She followed his every move, drawing from the street, capturing the zeitgeist, and serving it to the 80s and 90s. She had the same kind of antennae. Both were presenters for their eras, and not so much by changing their costumes but by changing their hair (rarely did either star resort to a wig). In a way it is their claim to authenticity: they committed.
Even now I cannot say that I am a superfan of Bowie’s music – hey, I never was. I chose Madonna – she was gayer and blacker in her influences. But I would be infinitely poorer without him: that strange beautiful stare, the loneliness, the art, the access to the avant-garde, I mean, where else were the suburbs going to get it? Sometimes it felt like it was enough just to look at him. His poses and attitudes being more distillations than costumes, I guess David Bowie was an alien, and perhaps it was David Jones that actually left us: that sweet, smart and loving soul talking to me from the past in the many interviews online. I have really been digging watching Bowie in his various incarnations describe what he is going for as Aladdin Sane, or Ziggy, or as a Plastic. It is all so smart, so searching, and so incomplete. It is hard to contemplate a man who is always in process, and now that he is gone there is this incredible record of that process. The whole of it feels like art, and I feel richer for it.
This week, with so much written about his life and work the song that seems to be on repeat in my brain is from the album Scary Monsters: “It’s No Game (Part 1)”. I guess it is apropos. For David Bowie it was no game; he was truly reaching out, and beyond, and then further beyond. It feels as if he is reaching further still.