Cool, Weird Kids Like Me Wouldn't Exist Without David Bowie

Photo: Dori Hartley
Blackstar by Dori Hartley David Bowie
Heartbreak, Love

Bowie made it beautiful to be a freak.

David Bowie is dead. How is this possible? Weren't we only a few days ago celebrating his birth? Weren't we only a few days before that enjoying the release of two amazing new videos: "Blackstar" and "Lazarus"?

We've always been starved for Bowie music and imagery but we always respected his need to deliver his brilliance his way, at his pace. His timing on this one was impeccable, to say the least. He gave us the supernova and it exploded into a million black stars and then, he winked and bid us adieu.

Bowie was never supposed to get old, and we knew it bothered him for years. We knew that if anyone was going to rebel against becoming an old man it was going to be David Bowie, right?

But the artist in him came to terms with the physicality of getting older — and what did he do? He showed us what he looked like as an older man in his late sixties. He showed us what immense complex originality and profound artistry looked like on a human face after years and years of delivering excellence in everything he touched.

And we looked at his handsome older face and saw his life story. But not just that  we saw our own life stories as well.

I looked at Bowie's beautiful worn and weary face and knew it was OK to get older, that if he could allow himself to be seen as an older man, it was like he was saying to all of his fans, "We are fragile and real. I am fragile and real. It's OK; we're all in this together."

The poignancy of seeing David Bowie's aging appearance also let us know that we're so much more than our physical body: we are the art we leave behind. We are our connection to the people who love us. We are the far-reaching influence that we have on strangers.

To watch older Bowie shimmy and pose in both of his new videos is to come full circle; in his last artistic endeavor, he tells it straight: We are who we are, no matter how old we get. We're all rock stars; we shimmy, pose, sing, dance and die.

And he died of cancer so ultimately human, so uncontrollably vulnerable.

I was fortunate enough to be of the age where seeing Bowie perform was easy. I must have seen him a dozen times in his early days. When I was 15, I got myself up to the front row for one of his shows at Madison Square Garden and for one whole song, he held my hand and sang to me. I saw him in The Elephant Man a few years after that.

As a New Yorker, it was always easy to run into Bowie somewhere. I have a memory of going up in the elevator at Bergdorf Goodman's with him and his wife, Iman. I was a wannabe rock star back then and all I wanted was to hand him one of my demos. But instead, I just huddled into the corner of the elevator, hating the idiot outfit I was wearing for my stupid job that day, selling stinky perfume on the first floor.

I looked like a bag of turds ... and there was David Bowie, looking like the Thin White Duke, master of all Vampires, The Hero Alien of my heart. Needless to say, I never handed him my demo. But it's OK I got to ride in an elevator with Major Tom!

In my little world, people think I'm one of the cool kids, but cool kids like me only exist because of people like David Bowie. Bowie made it beautiful to be a freak and oh yes, he's the original. Before anyone was flying his or her freak flag, there was Bowie teaching us how to wave it proudly and with quality.

Is there anyone who isn't somehow influenced by this man? I'm not sure. His influence was so far-reaching. It's almost as if he's responsible on some profound level for the way we think of science fiction. He's the original X Files candidate. His fantasy became our fantasy. Whatever inspired David Bowie transformed him into such a master, that he transformed us.

The irony is in his death, his goodbye to us. Having been his fan for my entire life, I've seen all the Bowie faces and looks, followed him through all of his styles and rebellions, his risks, his efforts  on film, on stage and on record. I've witnessed his monolithic talent through all of his precious short years. 

And after all that beauty, all that effort, he gave us a few days to relish the idea that Bowie was back: new recording, new videos, appearances, his birthday. And then, "David Bowie dies of cancer."

He had been ill and battling cancer for 18 months. He knew he was going to die so he gave us Blackstar, his last and most poignant release. It was his way of saying, "I have to go now. It's alright, my loves. It's alright."

I can't end this tribute on a dark note, I simply cannot. So I will end by saying that, in my heart of hearts I believe that somewhere, way out there in space, there's a small planet rejoicing over the fact that their king has returned. If you listen real close you can hear them shouting at the top of their alien lungs, "Welcome back!"

Thank you for visiting us, David. You blew our minds.



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