…’Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
-Starman (David Bowie)
David Bowie meant a lot of things to a lot of people. I’m trying to find out what he meant to me. I’m trying to find out how and why his death is affecting me.
Is it because I like his sound? I’ll admit, it’s good music and I’ve always liked some of it but I haven’t listened to much of it until, by happenstance, this past semester. Is it because I like his acting? It’s certainly always a fun novelty when David Bowie is in a film, but I’ve never seen him have a chance to particularly stand out hugely (except for his bulge in Labyrinth) as an actor. Is it because I like his lyrics? Now they are certainly damn good and have connected with me, so this probably has something to do with it. Is it because of his paintings? I hadn’t seen them before his death. Is it his public stance on social and racial issues in crucial times and places? I can only hope to be as aware and active. Is it because he had orgies in a fur pit? Maybe. Is it because of his artistry – blending his lyrics with impassioned vocals and cinematic, evocative, and spanning sounds? He certainly has songs that resonate with me. Is it because he’s a rock star and captures a childhood ideal and aspiration? Well, it definitely would’ve been cool to be David Bowie. Am I just feeding into the hype around his death and caring more than I have a right to? I hope not. Is it his innovation and ability to create new sounds and trends and reinvent himself? I’m not going to lie, I wildly admire it. Is it his comfort within his strangeness that makes us all wish we were that strange and that we had different colored eyes and a permanently dilated pupil? I wish I was strange, I wish I was comfortable with it. Is it his created personas that are larger-than-life that offer something otherworldly whose presence you’ve felt before – that you’ve almost tasted – that’s “all worthwhile?” His meta-aware flamboyance and knowing theatricality did give me the sense that there was something supremely grander we were audience to and conjured memories of the sweet waves I’ve intercepted from the beautiful people and concepts I’ve come across that seemed to have come from a more beautiful and pure Platonic world just to blow our minds. Is it the immense humanity that swarmed in him and flooded out of him and into us, toying with our humanity and joys and fears and hopes while also making us more human? I wouldn’t doubt it.
These all affect me. These all connect with me and make me feel something at his abrupt departure. But what affects me most is his courage. What inspires me most is his courage.
The ability to reinvent himself continuously throughout his life is impressive, but what makes David Bowie’s death affect me most was his courage to reinvent himself continuously throughout his life. He did not choose well-trodden paths as he uprooted his proven successes to go into the unknown and bizarre, but he went into these new directions with zeal and attitude.
To go into the unknown and bizarre. When I wrote my very first post of this blog (rife with fear and uncertainty) I listened to Space Oddity before and during, multiple times. I had to.
While Bowie burst into the unknown with his zeal and attitude, it was not without fear. And I had to hear the fear and estrangement and aspirations he felt through Major Tom. I had to hear him overcome them in his bittersweet creation as I screwed up whatever courage I could borrow from him.
Academia is an exponentially branching beast and the paths you can take becomes a labyrinth. I, of course, want to be a successful researcher, but I have aspirations of having my own humanity come out in some way. To have a human impact on the culture of academia and philosophy of research. To have some influence through the way I live, research, teach, blog, make videos, make music, ask questions, wax poetic. To reinvent myself throughout my life and have my person and research emanate into untrodden humanity and knowledge. But these are pies in the sky and seem impossible to get to, even when (especially when) taking perilous leaps into the unknown. And I sometimes need to know there’s a Starman in that sky whose been under pressure, with the gall to believe that they can do something new in those bizarre leaps, telling me not to blow it. Telling me it’s all worthwhile.
So I listened to Space Oddity.
David Bowie is not done inspiring me or making me more human yet. But this is already getting long and I have a few more specific ways in which he’s affected and influenced me. So I’ll save those for the next post. For now, David, I’m sure you would have stayed longer but you thought you’d blow our minds.
Ashes to ashes, funk to funky