Fame, makes a man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there where things are hollow
Fame, it’s not your brain, it’s just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane
Fame, what you like is in the limo
Fame, what you get is no tomorrow
Fame, what you need you have to borrow
Fame, “Nein! It’s mine!” is just his line
To bind your time, it drives you to, crime
Could it be the best, could it be?
Really be, really, babe?
Could it be, my babe, could it, babe?
Is it any wonder I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain check on pain
Fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame,
What’s your name?
When I heard the news on Monday morning that David Bowie had died the night before, the first thing I did was get in touch with my sister and a close friend from high school. I had to see how they were doing. Both were sad. The former wept. The latter was stoic.
“Crazy. So sad. So young,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten through high school without him.”
Much of my late teens and early 20s was spent listening to David Bowie, first in my parents’ cars, and then eventually my own car: Hunky Dory if I were with my sister; some part of the Sound & Vision box set if I were with my friend. Both were more affected by the death than I was.
Don’t get me wrong — I certainly like David Bowie a lot. I appreciate a fair amount of his music, and he seems to have been a generally intelligent and thoughtful person. More than that, though, as an artist he was impressive. He reincarnated himself a dozen times, falling in and out of different personas that were more and less himself: in the first decade of his career alone, he went from Davie Jones to David Bowie to Ziggy Stardust, back to David Bowie, and then to the Thin White Duke. He maintained a successful career for the better part of 40 years, writing music that was always intrinsically David Bowie, yet always current, and always relevant. Unlike other artists who’ve been around a very long time, most notably the Rolling Stones, Bowie was never accused of carrying on past his sell-by date. He never reached it.
For the two I checked in with the morning after his death, though, he was more than just an artist to admire. Both having discovered him in their mid-teens, Bowie symbolized freedom to them in a way that he never had to me: a departure from the everyday and from the social mores that plague your average teenager, male or female (or, as this is Bowie, possibly somewhere in between). He’s the sort of artist you could get lost inside, fitting yourself into the worlds he constructed in his songs, the people he played in his films. As musician and also as actor, he was permission to be a stranger version of yourself, or perhaps more accurately, an authentic version of yourself. It’s only a particular kind of artist who can do that for his or her audience. It’s a particular kind of vision.
And all of that — well, so say the million tributes that have poured in about David Bowie since he died. I don’t mean to be flippant. I believe the things I’ve said about him to be true, but most of these insights are not unique to me, or my feelings about the man. People whom I had no idea liked Bowie have displayed loving tributes to the man on social media and in real life.
There are other voices, too, though. The ones that quietly but insistently remind us that Bowie was not only that larger-than-life persona in whom we could fashion an identity or a home. He’s also the cocaine-addled man who slept with 15-year-old girls in the mid-1970s, when he was nearly 30 years old. Because he was so good at what he did, and so loved, and so intelligent in his conversations on so many things, the voices mentioning those indiscretions almost sound sheepish in their indictments. Others respond that they’d rather not think about it, or that it’s not the time to talk about it, or that it’s not relevant to his legacy.
I tend to disagree on all counts. Things remain insistently present whether we want to talk about them or not. There are few more pertinent moments to talk about someone’s behaviour than on the occasion of their death, whether the behaviour was good or bad.
Legacy, though . . . that’s always the part I need to work out for myself. What precisely is a legacy? Is it meant to be an accurate representation of what someone was? Is it a testament to the impact a person or thing has on our lives and culture? And in either case, how is the fact of his committing statutory rape not relevant? I think it says a great deal about our culture that we’ll willingly forgive or forget or ignore the mistreatment of women by so many men we consider great.
That being said, of course, it doesn’t change the fact that his music was meaningful and beautiful, and his art irrevocably changed the face of western culture. The trouble, for me at least, is that I don’t know how to feel about it. I don’t know how to remember David Bowie.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings