Serious Moonlight

Had you asked me last week, "Are you a David Bowie fan?" I would have responded with some kind of dithering.

"Kind of."

"Sure. I guess."

"I like a lot of his stuff, but I'm not, y'know, a fan."

And those would have been accurate responses, in some ways. I've never owned a lot of Bowie albums. On vinyl, I think I had only Scary Monsters. When I went to CD, his catalogue wasn't available for a few years, and when Rykodisc finally released it in 1990, I managed to snag a promo copy of Changesonebowie, their remastered version of his first greatest hits collection (which featured a really stillborn remix of "Fame.") Over the years I've picked up a couple more--Heroes, Station to Station, the 2002 Best of Bowie collection--but I never dug into the back catalogue, despite knowing the name (and cover art) for everything he released from Hunky Dory through Never Let Me Down. And yes, I saw him live, at the Dean Dome, on the Sound + Vision tour that paralleled the Rykodisc releases, with Adrian Belew as the opener, but I still wouldn't have called myself a fan, exactly.

But for all that, Bowie kept turning up. My favorite musicians kept covering his songs--Rhett Miller doing "Queen Bitch" on The Interpreter, Peter Gabriel opening Scratch My Back with a triumphant orchestral take on "Heroes"--and of course he was famously collaborative with many artists I love dearly, most notably Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, not to mention Queen, with whom he recorded the soaring, spectacular single "Under Pressure."

Nor did Bowie himself ever quite disappear from my radar. In 2002, he recorded a version of a song I'd loved for years, the Pixies' "Cactus." And in 2004 there was Seu Jorge delivering a half-dozen acoustic covers in Portuguese for the soundtrack of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, such as this lovely "Life On Mars."

Intellectually, I knew all this, but I still didn't think of myself as a Bowie fan. Maybe I was distancing myself from official fandom out of some discomfort--Bowie was always aggressive in violating borders, including those around comfort zones. Perhaps this was a lingering adolescent fear of violating heteronormativity or something. Even when Poor Judgment, my own loosely-constructed and under-rehearsed faculty band at Woodberry Forest, decided to cover "Space Oddity," I didn't quite get why we worked so hard on the arrangement--harder than we'd worked on most of the songs we performed for the public, I'd argue--of a song by an artist I didn't consider all that important in my life.

But whatever the reason for my distance, I woke up Monday morning to learn he was dead--a complete shock, as it was to just about everyone, since he hadn't publicized his illness. And as I processed that shock, I began to realize that I was feeling a real sense of loss. 

That sense of loss increased as I saw people responding on Facebook and Twitter. Friends, acquaintances, total strangers were all reeling, sharing their memories, posting photos and artwork links and snatches of song. My own favorite artists--everyone from Robyn Hitchcock to Simon Pegg--were similarly struggling to come to grips with it. What we were to make of this strange new world where David Bowie didn't exist?

It was somewhere around that point where I began to realize that I wasn't a Bowie fan because you're not really a fan of things you take for granted. You choose to become a fan of something when you discover it and pick it up and hold it for your own. But Bowie was too big for that, too mobile, too variable. His influence was sometimes subtle, but it reached everywhere, drawing millions of people toward his songs, his passions, his experimentation. His identity kept changing, and just as you got used to one face, it was gone. You couldn't be fan of Bowie any more than you could be a fan of the moon.

But now we must imagine living in a world where the moon has set, forever. The light that silvered the hills and the cities and the fields, just a little bit differently every night, no longer shines down, and the sea that heaved its immense weight to be a little nearer has settled forever into its bed, dreaming.

Rest well, all you earthlings.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on January 13, 2016 10:11 AM.

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