As I sat writing my first piece of the day this morning, the warm and bouncy opening bars of Oh! You Pretty Things danced upon the airwaves and I felt the sort of sadness you feel physically yet you can’t explain where or how or what it really is. That odd lurch when your perspective shifts in an instant. The weird and intangible feeling when you turn the last page of a book and suddenly miss that character whose life you lived over the preceding days or weeks. You didn’t know them; they probably don’t even exist, but each night you settle into the comfortable familiarity of their voice and they take a place, however fleeting, in your life. The simple fact of not knowing someone doesn’t mean they cannot leave a hole in your life.
One of my favourite quotes about David Bowie is from Caitlin Moran’s ’10 Things Every Girl Should Know’ and it goes as follows, “In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him, too.”
David Bowie didn’t change, the world changed around him. For every weirdo and outcast, for everyone who struggled with their identity, for everyone who didn’t fit the mould, Bowie represented, and continues to represent, acceptance.
Whilst someone is still here, their mere presence on this earth reinforces the changes they’ve brought; it’s still happening because they’re here to keep the flame lit. When they’re gone, in an instant it can feel like it’s all over and that their influence will become just another part of history. We worry that it will all slip away and the world will reset to the point just before they changed it all. But rather than simply forming a bittersweet memory, such impact can and does become a thread of energy we can continue to weave into the days when we’re no longer graced by their shadow.
I was born too late to experience Bowie in his glorious early days but it’s clear, not just from my own admiration and appreciation, but from the sheer span of tributes pouring in, that his appeal has no expiry date. His creativity transcends generations, permeating our collective consciousness in a way only a magical few can. Some may say ‘you’re too young to really understand’, and I get that it’s difficult to truly appreciate that wonderful frenzied feeling that only comes when someone bounds onto the scene who is everything you’ve been looking for without even knowing it. But feeling different and misunderstood is a universal experience, and the weight of Bowie’s influence truly shines through in the fact that people still feel it decades later.
Upon hearing the news, one of my first thoughts was how sad it is that my nieces and nephews didn’t get to experience David Bowie whilst he was still alive. (I realise that I didn’t either, to the full extent, but there’s something about sharing the same planet at the same time that makes you feel more of a part of something.) But then I settled upon the comforting thought that someone so important doesn’t simply stop being important after they’ve gone. In fact, he now becomes even more important as we scramble to preserve and document everything he ever made us feel, grappling with the fact that his creative output has become finite. We treasure it more fiercely and pass it on more freely in order to ensure it doesn’t get lost or forgotten.
His body of work and his enormous influence is there for us to pull from and build upon whenever we wish. He has left more than he has taken away.