It wasn't the first thing I expected to encounter when I turned on my iPad this morning, but there it was on my New York Times feed-- David Bowie had died on Sunday evening. I felt my stomach drop, just as it had when I'd first heard about John Lennon being gunned down 35 years ago. The world had lost another fearless artist, something that's constantly in short supply, something that diminishes our collective vitality at a time when we need more of it, not less.
For the record, I was never a huge Bowie fan. I never attended one of his concerts. I owned a scant few of his records. But I admired him immensely-- more so as I grew older than when I was young and too dumb to realize what was going on behind the public artifice Bowie wielded so effectively. The man behind the mask was an artist in the truest sense of the word: he explored ideas, toyed with the notion of identity, championed the value of lives lived on the fringes (even while he was embraced-- but never co-opted-- by the mainstream).
On Friday evening (January 8, 2016, Bowie's 69th birthday), I watched an evening of Bowie on Palladia, the cable TV music channel. There was a D.A. Pennebaker movie about his final 1973 performance as Ziggy Stardust (with the Spiders from Mars). That was followed by a "Storytellers" episode from 1999, with David talking about his life and music while doing a set that spanned his career to that point. Then there was the debut of his latest (and sadly, last) video-- "Lazarus," from his just released album Blackstar.
If anyone doubts the depth of Bowie's artistry, that video is evidence of it. In addition to the Biblical reference to rising from the dead, the video shows a clearly gaunt Bowie at his theatrical best. And it ends with him climbing into a cabinet (an upright coffin?) and closing the doors . The man knew he was dying, yet he managed to make art right up to the end.
If anyone can lay claim to being the Lazarus of the music world, it's Bowie who created and killed off multiple identities throughout his career, each time rising again with a new persona. But behind them all was a singular man-- David Bowie. Unfortunately this time he won't rise again-- but given the depth and scope of the body of work he leaves behind, he won't ever truly leave us. His legacy is assured through the music, videos and films he created over the past 50 years.
He will be missed by family, friends and fans alike. And by people like me who, even when we didn't like a specific piece of music, appreciated the creative mind behind it. While others have learned from him-- think David Byrne, Arcade Fire (whom Bowie championed), Laurie Anderson (who married Bowie's pal Lou Reed)-- no one surpassed him in terms of daring or vision. Whether you were a fan or not, you can't deny the man was an artistic force to be reckoned with. RIP, David. We are richer for having had your presence in the world.