Of all the headlines I’ve had to write for this site when death comes for a beloved figure in popular culture, this one is by far the most improbable. Death never feels fair, but this just plain looks incongruous. I think we all entertain the fantasy that David Bowie wasn’t entirely human, a being of strange light sent from space to baffle and inspire us. It’s certainly a fantasy he encouraged, and so, even if we knew he was entirely human, we never much considered he could die. To his family and his loved ones, we express the deepest and sincerest of condolences — the loss really is theirs alone.
To the rest of us, this can feel as much like it could be the death of a dream as it is the death of a man. It really feels wrong. Dreams aren’t supposed to die. They can’t, right? They can’t. That’s the thing to remember. Dreams don’t die. “David Bowie” was a beautiful dream, and he can continue to be that for us.
With every dream comes the reality of morning. There is, eternally, a distinction between the great art and the great artist. One outlasts the other. I feel so much empathy for his family and dear friends right now, because the many of us admirers who never got the chance to know David Bowie personally, despite our profound sadness at this epic loss to our world’s culture, are, in a way, getting off easy. Our relationship to David Bowie hasn’t changed that much. We won’t get new music from him, and that’s sad to know. But for us, that’s the one way he’s gone. His creativity and his ability to inspire remains, and so it will always do. We still have his music and his image, his songs and his film performances. We still have the dreams he shared with us. And no, those cannot die, not as long as we keep on sharing them.
We can mourn the man; we must celebrate his art. Play a David Bowie song for someone you love today.
A bunch of friendly and scattered recommendations:
Here’s the David Bowie song that has meant the most to me over the years. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t need to. I just love it. I love him for writing it.
Here’s “Heroes,” of course, as soaring and as optimistic (despite or maybe in part because of the quotation marks) as ever:
Here’s “Lazarus,” a video David Bowie released last Friday, on his 69th birthday, along with his latest and last album, Blackstar — how many great artists went out on such astonishingly pure terms? I can think of maybe one, Charles Schulz, who died the day before his last comic strip was printed. But it’s down to him and Bowie.
Here’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” from the same album, because it’s incredible:
In a way, as the last song on his last album, that’s David Bowie’s last song, but in defiance of chronology itself let’s keep on listening. Here’s the Jacques Brel cover “Amsterdam”:
From The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, “Soul Love”:
“I’m Deranged,” from the album Outside and from the opening credits of the movie LOST HIGHWAY (being deranged doesn’t sound as bad when Bowie sings about it):
Also from Outside, and from the end credits of 1995’s SE7EN, one of the all-time devastating soundtrack drops:
Here’s “Magic Dance” or “Dance Magic,” depending on who you ask, which is from LABYRINTH, the movie where I most likely saw David Bowie for the first time (and click on this sentence to find out how much that movie meant to our own Tristan Risk). To me, it’s David Bowie and a bunch of gruesome puppets inspiring a baby to dance, which is fucking great from every angle:
Here’s a cover of “Nature Boy,” a song popularized by Nat King Cole and redone by Bowie with Massive Attack for the soundtrack to MOULIN ROUGE!, a movie that meant a lot to me at the time:
Here’s “Win,” the second track from Young Americans, which is the one I keep coming back to today for whatever reason (tomorrow it’ll be another song that resonates):
Here’s David Bowie doing a sake commercial (his longer nstrumental piece featured here, “Crystal Japan,” is another favorite of mine):
Here’s David Bowie performing with Iggy Pop, because that’s just about the coolest friendship ever:
Here’s David Bowie singing the standard “Wild Is The Wind,” in which he sings a song popularized by Nina Simone (among others) and hardly shrinks at that mighty comparison:
Here’s David Bowie narrating “Peter And The Wolf,” which was my favorite story as a child and, with him narrating, remains one of my favorite works of art into adulthood:
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