When news of his death flashed across the news wires Monday, I felt as though I had been punched in the chest; again, words like “shock,” “dismay,” and “sadness” are accurate, but insufficient. That reaction surprised me. I am not a sentimental person, and before Monday I couldn’t honestly say when the last time I heard anything about David Bowie or otherwise given him any conscious thought might have been.
After I thought about it for a little while, the realization of why I felt the loss so acutely was startling. David Bowie began his career about the time I was born, and because he was who he was, he is necessarily inseparable from the perceptions of art and culture I have been ingrained with for my entire life. He was a constant: From the time I was old enough to perceive and understand it, music, style, storytelling, and the various other parts of the artistic realm have always existed as “music, style, storytelling, and the various other parts of the artistic realm, and David Bowie.”
It didn’t matter if one was a “fan” in the conventional sense or not, because he transcended that with his permanence. To this day I cannot remember my grade-school years in the latter part of the 70’s without a soundtrack consisting of “Suffragette City,” “Young Americans,” and “Golden Years” running through the back of my mind. He was always there, always doing something new and different, and it was always something that influenced a great deal of the rest of the artistic atmosphere and stuck with you, whether you actually realized it or not. And he was good at it: I came of age in the 80’s, an era of both goofy post-disco stylish excess and Cold War spookiness, and while there were a lot of artists who could capture one mood or the other, nobody but David Bowie could completely, seamlessly nail them both (this and this were both released in the same year, 1984).
And he kept it up for half a century. His last album, Blackstar, was released on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death, and is as bold and original as anything Bowie ever created. We just didn’t realize he was saying goodbye.
David Bowie’s passing was like waking up one morning and discovering there are no paved roads anymore, because his entire career was a lesson – this is how you do art. There will never be another like him, and it is hard not to feel that we are diminished, that there is now a hole in our humanity, because of it.