Nothing feels quite right today. It’s as if some of the light has gone out of the world. I’ve turned on all the lamps, but it hasn’t helped much.
I’m not going to write a beautiful retrospective about David Bowie’s life here. There will be plenty of those around for the next few days, and they’ll be well-researched and well-edited, and if that’s the kind of thing that helps you through your grief or satisfies your curiosity, I’m pleased they’re out there for you.
I don’t process grief that way. I won’t be listening to Bowie tunes all day. I won’t be watching Labyrinth. (Now, that feels odd to say. I’ve seen that movie more times than any other. It’s my comfort-movie. But not today.) I won’t be reading any more about him than the bare minimum I encounter in tweets as I turn to social media to keep me connected to the world.
I need to keep my distance. I know that about myself. If I start to wallow, the ship that is my mental health will founder in deep, dark waters, and I need to keep afloat.
I will say this though, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favorite album ever. I didn’t just decide that this morning (though that’s the kind of thing I might do); it’s been my favorite ever since I was a kid. It taught me the concept of a concept album. I hadn’t known you could do science fiction in music. I hadn’t known science fiction could make you feel so deeply. (I hadn’t yet discovered some of my SF favorites at the time, and even if I had, I don’t know if they ever affected me on a level like Ziggy did.)
I never did deep-dive into his entire canon. I loved a few bits intensely and left the rest for the folks who appreciated it properly. I was glad others did because a man with so much beauty and creativity deserved to have every ounce of his output passionately loved by someone.
It was Bowie who taught me about panning (the music-production technique–not searching for gold in a river). The summer after high school, I worked at a dinky little movie theater as an assistant manager/projectionist. When I was alone, closing up for the night, I’d blast a Bowie greatest-hits tape as I cleaned and did the books. The music player was an old (even at the time) boom-box with one speaker in the office and one speaker out in the concessions area. I noticed some songs sounded completely different, depending which room I was in. I’d miss some vocals while I scrubbed the popcorn popper, and miss others while I filled out paperwork. It blew my mind, and I had to rush home to listen through headphones to experience it fully.
And of course, there’s Labyrinth. The emotional connection I have with that film is still somewhat baffling in its intensity. I discovered it well after it came out. I was in the latter years of high school, I think. So by now, as I said, I’ve seen it many, many times. When life gets tough, and I need comfort, that’s what I most often turn to. During my freshman year of college, when I was away from home for the first time and really floundering in the not-even-quite-real world, I watched it almost nightly. My roommate was amazed (and a little disturbed) by my ability to fall asleep while watching but wake up for every. single. Bowie. scene.
It, and he, were perfectly keyed in to a part of my subconscious, a part of my soul, that wouldn’t allow me to miss a moment. Not of Jareth. Everything about that film was tailor-made for my tastes, from the Henson puppets to the shimmery sparkles all over the labyrinth set to the drama-queen main character to the girl-escapes-boring-life-into-a-magical-wonderland story.
But at the center of it all was Him. This man, this king, this creature of strangeness and beauty. I was drawn to Jareth like a helpless needle to the North Pole or the proverbial moth to a flame. And he was both cold and hot all at once. He was sad and lonely and every bit as lost as the girl wandering his labyrinth. And his music…oh his music.
I liked every song in the film; Bowie wrote them all, of course. But the ones Jareth sang to Sarah, they cut me. They were the ones I rewound to watch over and over. In a silly film about a girl and a baby and puppets, I found a character more damaged and flawed, beautiful and powerful, terrible and needy than any other I’d fallen in love with before.
I know I was supposed to root for Sarah to rescue her brother and live happily ever after, but I never did. I wanted her to see the Goblin King for who he truly was, recognize his pain, and do whatever it took to heal them both. In my mind, I took her place and did this a thousand thousand times.
And that was all down to Bowie. His performance and his songs elevated a sweet, lovely film to a layered, heartbreaking tale, that overflows the screen and seeps into the very soul of those who watch and understand.
As I said, I’ve turned on all the lights. A monochrome day hangs outside the window. The extra light bolsters my flagging spirit, as do the stuffed, plush doggie leaning on my leg and the fuzzy cupcake pants I’m inhabiting and the even-fuzzier green blanket on the also-fuzzy couch. I’m surrounding myself with softness and light, joy and distraction, comfort and color today because I know that’s what I need right now. Sinking into solace: Yes. Wallowing in wounds: No.
I should be applying for jobs, but I think my cover letters might devolve (evolve?) into lyrics from “Life on Mars” and “Oh You Pretty Things” and “Five Years” and heck, maybe “I’m Afraid of Americans” would actually help now I live in Canada.
Speaking of Labyrinth, I’ve read some of the other actors they considered for the role of Jareth. I thank my lucky stars things happened the way they did. I thank my lucky stars for every way Bowie touched my life. And I suppose his death won’t bring an end to that. His work, his art, is still out there, touching not only me, but countless others.
All of us, individually loving, consuming, appreciating his brilliance. And perhaps more importantly, all of us, together, doing the same. My love of Bowie brought me together with many amazing people. It brought me closer to the amazing people I already knew. And that can only continue.
So thank you, David. Thank you for all of it.
But I’m still crushed to see you go.