Post-Bowie: Navigating the death of an icon

We live in an age which rarely sees public figures enduring, let alone becoming as iconic as Bowie. I explore his personal significance to me and others.

Brixton on Monday evening. Photo by me

When I heard the news, I cried. There was always a small part of me that hoped he was legitimately from outer space — therefore immortal and to outlive us all, perhaps divulging his secret to the human race some time in the 2300s where everyone would pretend they saw it coming all along but really just thought that maybe he got his five a day and exercised regularly. It was a shock, then, that I could awake to a text from my mother adorned with sadface emojis and have it not be some elaborate ruse. He was actually gone.

Just days prior had seen both his 69th birthday and the release of what was to be his final album, Blackstar. Since his passing Blackstar has been recontextualised to become a leaving statement — full of images of heaven, freedom, finality, and reflection. Bowie had been diagnosed with cancer and kept it private for 18 months (a blackstar is a kind of tumour) and with that knowledge it is easy to see how self-aware the record is. Even when faced with a terminal diagnosis, Bowie makes it into something extraordinary. The continual deliberate shaping of the world around him is something which made Bowie so relevant for so long — he would have an idea and execute it almost in the same breath, never stopping to apologise for simply being himself.

It’s this unapologetic refusal to bend to the wishes of others that makes Bowie stand out, especially when it comes to personal identity and the way his legacy has shaped our society. Bowie pushed the boundaries of what the mainstream would accept with regards to gender, sexuality, and even different personas, and is often cited as one of the first figures that people who society otherwise shunned could look to, even aspire to.

Brixton tribute street party on Monday night. Photo by me

I feel that with the death of someone so visionary, there is a kind of energy transference that takes place. To those left feeling without direction — create your own. Use the energy he released into the ether and own it. Collaborate, love, be yourself, be unapologetic. This idea is echoed in the lyrics of the title track from Blackstar;

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar

This energy transference was truly felt in the air on Monday night. Around the world fans gathered to both mourn his loss and celebrate his life, nowhere moreso than here in his birthplace of Brixton. I feel so privileged to have been part of that night — I created the facebook event so it’s been attributed to me, as if I’m the one who instilled that passion in so many. The passion was already there; I just gave it a time and place to be expressed and the offer was taken up enthusiastically. Thousands of people united in their love for one man and his work, connecting on a level deeper than is offered by most situations. Everyone there had something in common and something to share with the world. I honestly believe that this collaborative, supportive, loving environment could be one that instills a change in the world, or at the very least those who were there to experience it.

Brixton tribute street party on Monday evening. Photos by me

Bowie, if you have internet in heaven or on Mars or wherever your essence has ended up, I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you for touching the lives of so many, across multiple generations, countries, genders, sexualities. Thank you for being a uniting force between people who otherwise may have felt entirely isolated from this world. Thank you for influencing a whole ton of really great music, like seriously are there any contemporary bands that you can’t trace back? And thank you for leaving us in the most intelligent and fitting way I can imagine. I promise you I won’t waste the impact you’ve left personally on me and I hope everyone else your work and life has touched can say the same.

I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” — David Bowie

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