Major Tom’s Consummate Voyage: A Tribute to David Bowie

It’s two days after hearing the news and I’m finally getting to soak in Blackstar, a prematurely posthumous release from the now ethereal David Bowie. The entire album breaks me on first listen — the pained sound of Bowie’s voice on its title track; the melancholic sax on “Lazarus.” Not because it isn’t a masterpiece (quite the opposite, naturally), but the silent seconds heard just after its final song make me confront the truth.

After a life cycle of rebirth, this is the last time we will be graced by The Thin White Duke.

The news of Bowie’s death early Monday came as a stark shock to fans around the globe, who all mourned by flooding the streets in song and laying memorials at his New York City and London homes. Though, truth be told, his exit couldn’t have been any less surprising.

In the last year alone — with full knowledge that he had only 18 months to live after being diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014 — Bowie strove to orchestrate the final notes of his legacy in secret by releasing his 25th album and co-writing the music to “Lazarus,” a staged production of the unofficial sequel to “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

The trajectory of Bowie’s life itself has proven to be almost operatic — each of his drastically different personas, birthed from a spectacle of adversity, rocketing him to the stars — so it only seemed right to close out his 50-year career with a grand finale. Blackstar’s title says it all: Starman’s glow has burnt out at last.

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Director Wes Anderson often features Bowie’s music in his films, most prominently in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Here I’m proudly wearing a lapel pin depicting a hybrid of the film’s title character, as played by Bill Murray, and Bowie’s Aladdin Sane persona.

In all honesty, I’m not one to feel severely distraught or emotional over the death of a celebrity, mostly because there’s no way of knowing him or her as an actual person. Except when I woke up that morning to learn Bowie had died overnight, I felt a sharp chill splintering across my lungs. It felt almost as if I had lost one of my favorite teachers in life — like that notoriously kooky art teacher in school that wore bright patterns and spoke in flowery prose — whose advice would always echo in my head.

It’s a regular part of my routine to blast “Diamond Dogs” and “Queen Bitch” in succession while gearing up to face the day. (Rocky might’ve had Survivor, but I have Halloween Jack.) His lyrics taught me the value of persona in my own writing, prying open that surrealist part of my brain and painting its voice with celestials and shimmer. He even inspired one of my favorite television moments involving a dream and an eyepatch. (Thank you, Flight of the Conchords.)

Most importantly, coming from a native New Yorker, he proved to be the city’s greatest import, acting as paragon for an island of misfits.

While it’s devastating to think Bowie has finally returned to the mothership, after noticing all of the tributes, memorials and artwork that have poured out in response, it’s difficult to feel much of a deep void since his passing. Then again, he built his entire career on transcending the mortal with an omnipresent force of ever-changing style.    

Bowie was expression incarnate; a sentient being that impressed the masses to tap into their inner pretty things. He’s taught outcasts how to sharpen their frustrations on the fringe into saber-toothed art. He spooked an entire generation, one that yearned for a return to normalcy, while making way for a brave new era of androgynous weirdos, rebels and super creeps. That includes the unexpected fans, like my father — a retired NYPD officer and the former owner of a 1985 Pontiac Fiero — who gifted me with his Diamond Dogs 7” vinyl after salvaging it from a basement flood, post-Hurricane Sandy.

Although, in his later years, Bowie even managed to make normcore look stylish as he became a doting father to two children in his own Rockwellian family portrait. A friend of mine, who used to work as a dance instructor, would regale me in stories about how Bowie and Iman’s daughter Lexi, now 15, took dance lessons at the studio like any other teen. You could tell Bowie’s family meant the world to him, and to honor its glam patriarch, his loved ones have welcomed the world in remembering the legend, according to an official statement posted on Facebook yesterday.     

With the release of Blackstar, Bowie has come full circle while reflecting on his many lives, fans and loved ones. Major Tom has completed his long orbit around the Earth.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go strap on my red shoes & dance the blues in memory of an iconic musician, artist, performer, trendsetter, rulebreaker, innovator, underdog, muse, activist, leader, chameleon and hero.

Here’s to you, David.

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Have your own Bowie memory to share? Send your stories to holler.body@gmail.com.

In the meantime, feel free to honor Bowie’s legacy by blasting this playlist of classic Bowie tracks plus those of his collaborators, influences and disciples. 

[Top image via jethrotull.com; above image via rollingstone.com]

3 thoughts on “Major Tom’s Consummate Voyage: A Tribute to David Bowie

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