David Bowie – January 8th 1947 – January 10th 2016
[January 11th, 2016] by Keram Malicki-Sanchez
January 10th, 2016
The immediate feeling that the king has died enters my mind. The coincidence that earlier today I was mourning the loss of Jim Henson when I discovered a rare documentary about the making of Labyrinth that centers almost solely around David Bowie. In one scene, he is up at 2am in a recording studio in Manhattan, backed by a large gospel choir, channeling some unseen force like a goblin king.
My first awareness of Mr. Bowie came when I was merely 8-years-old and was hired to do an episode of Faerie Tale Theater with Shelly Duvall. It was The Pied Piper of Hamelin and they told me that a man named David Bowie would star as the Pied Piper. I was also doing a play at the time – I think Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You (itself quite controversial) and told the cast. The actors, all young, Avant-Garde theater artists, reacted with awe and reverence.
“Why, who is David Bowie?” I asked, alarmed.
‘He is a god,’ they told me. ‘A man like no other.’
It’s funny, how at the time I thought that their reverence was provincial. To me, he would just be a co-worker. I had never intentionally heard his music and really was too young to grasp New York in the 70’s/early 80’s.
It turned out that Mr. Bowie would not be able to do the job because of a conflict and they replaced him with Eric Idle from something else I didn’t know about yet, called Monty Python. And so the seeds of my adulthood were sown. It also meant that from then on, I would always secretly think of Bowie as the original Pied Piper.
Years later, I would form a band. That band wanted to push the limits. I had grown up in a very staunch, overbearing private Catholic boys choir school and the contrast with my theater life made me want to rebel in every method available. We wore garter belts, brought in blacklights and dancers, and robot puppets and play loud squealy feedbacking glam rock that was meant to seduce an audience and then disrupt their comfort zone.
The real modus operadi, though, was to engender acceptance, diversified thinking, heterogeneity, and reverse terrible trends in intolerance, narrow-mindedness, greed and bigotry.
I thought we were one of a kind. But I kept hearing references to Aladdin Sane and Spiders from Mars and Ziggy Stardust. I learned of course that these were the many personalities and ideas of Mr. Bowie. He could hang with Iggy Pop of the Stooges or Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, sing the blues, funk, soul, electronica, world, downtown styles – whatever he wanted, and never cease to be David Bowie. There was legitimately nothing else like him. I thought we were breaking ground, but in fact we were amplifying the work of this experimental and powerful androgynous magician.
How could we not – we were raised in the atmospheric fog of his wake. He laid the groundwork, and whether we were aware or not, for that we could not take credit.
(I later realized that I had in fact already been listening to his album Love You till Tuesday (1969) which I had mistaken for a children’s album. Something like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and the Velvet Underground & Nico.)
‘When I’m Five” remains, to this day one of the most winsome and sweetly heartbreaking songs I have ever heard in my life. I still run it over in my head whenever I am afraid of losing my childlike curiosity to the snares of adulthood.
As an actor he held ethereal presence, a powerful lordly charisma, that never felt forced. In spite of his scarecrow figure and diminutive size, he had a calm baritone voice and those magic heterochromic eyes he earned from that legendary schoolyard fight that made them appear different colors due to an enlarged pupil.
When Earthling came out in 1997, it was the first album, in my opinion, to successfully merge drum n’ bass, pre-glitch and hard rock into something wholly new.
‘Hours’ (1999) and Heathen (2002) continued his conversation about anxiety in and for America in a way that no other artist was expressing as honestly.
I later learned that he had a son – Duncan Jones – living in Hollywood whose wife was a good friend of my significant others’. Jones had made one of the best existential science fiction films in recent memory “Moon.” When my girlfriend wanted to introduce us, I had a wave of memories going back throughout my entire life about his father.
Bowie has always been there – like Star Wars, like the seasons – an amorphous, unstable force that would occasionally attack from the shadows, wreaking havoc on the status quo and resetting the standard.
Even just now – weeks before his untimely death to cancer – he released a video (Blackstar) that feels miles and miles beyond anything else out there. An epic, tour-de-force of abstraction, symbolic imagery, instinct and viscera with no regard to convention, rife with conviction. Then, his new album, on his birthday – January 8th 2016. Two days before his death.
This all comes only a matter of days after we lost Lemmy of Motorhead to cancer only a year older. These are not people that we lose like teeth. These are unique forces, one-of-a-kind galactic emissaries of higher level creativity, who ignite us with passion, vision, ideas for what else could be possible, outside the spoon-fed marketing bullshit that increasingly encroaches upon our sense of reality. We need these catalysts to break all that down and make room again for our spirits.
Mr. Bowie, we shall never forget you. We musn’t.