The Starman? He was one of us

A memory of David Bowie’s death.

A year ago today, I was driving my daughter to school when the radio announced that David Bowie had died. I had to keep myself steady and refrain from showing undue emotion in front of my child. His death hit me with the raw impact of those truly close to us – a family member or a close friend. And at that moment, one single and clear thought crossed my mind: “he was one of us” – which is certainly the last thought I would have expected to have in that circumstance.

You see, having been a follower/observer/disciple of Bowie since the age of nine, to me he lived in a different realm to us mere mortals. Now it was as if his own mortality had suddenly given his songs – his life – a human dimension that made them so much precious for it. All of a sudden all those lyrics took a new simple, direct and obvious meaning – no innuendos, no cynicism, or at least only just enough to keep the sense of humour.

You see, I didn’t expect Bowie to die, not him. In my current life of career, mortgages, children, mid life crises, Bowie and all things Pop had been relegated to an outer layer of consciousness. But on occasion I had thought of his absence from the limelight, and imagined that he would live to 115, by changing his blood or whatever at some ultra exclusive clinic, smiling down to us and all our mortal preoccupations from his refuge in Switzerland – I did not even know he lived in NY. Bowie had always been so clever, he would outsmart everything and everyone – that was Bowie to me.

And it is not as if some part of me had held on to the years of teenagedom. Other heroes had died. – Lou Reed’s death for example, who along with Bowie spent countless afternoons hanging out in my bedroom – passed away with an odd bittersweet feeling: I remember thinking how irrelevant he felt to my adult life, and felt sorry and silly for having given so much reverential importance to his music in my youth. And it felt good to have moved on.

But Bowie’s death was different – it felt raw, and close. And if anyone’s death should have felt distant, it should have been Bowie’s. I had always thought that Bowie would not even look at you unless you had two oscars under your belt. It was this late certification as human and not having fallen to Earth what made me suddenly understand: “he was one of us rockanrollers”. He did understand what it felt to be human/lonely/sad/hopeful after all, and it was not a theatrical representation.

This was compounded in the following days by reading all the accounts of his compassion for his fellow man – acts of kindness that were clearly not a cheque writing exercise by someone in a privileged position, but demonstrations of true empathy and engagement with those around him. It just made all his songs ours, rather than given to us by this elevated being.

I can only end this rambling with an outlandish fan proclamation. It is often when life goes back to ‘normal’ when things get really hard for those left behind. Should his widow Iman, ever read this, please know that you can count on us for whatever is needed: whether parental guidance in life to your daughter, although most likely not needed, as she seems quite a well sorted out young lady; or whether it is taking the rubbish out, putting up some shelves… – whatever it is, count on us, we are legion – us.