In Memory...

Published on January 23rd, 2016 | by Andy Sedlak

Last Thoughts on David Bowie

Losing David Bowie felt like somebody bulldozed the street I grew up on.

I was under the impression he was in the middle of a career resurgence. After a decade of no activity whatsoever, he surprise-released a new album three years ago. Then, just two days before his death, he released another. I assumed Bowie was gearing up for a triumphant final act. I pictured him doing what Johnny Cash did. Or what Bob Dylan is still – thankfully – in the process of doing.

We didn’t know the half of it, did we? All along, Bowie had been fighting liver cancer. It became terminal in November. We ultimately learned about his cancer at the same time we learned about his death.

I’ve since read that he suffered as many as six heart attacks trying to complete the last record. He had already begun writing songs for one more album. It was that record – the one he didn’t get a chance to finish – that was to be his swan song.

I’ve been meaning to publish something about Bowie for a few days now, but I didn’t want it to be a knee-jerk piece. I was tired of those. I actually scrapped this several times. What you’re reading now was published semi-reluctantly. Every time I sat down to write, I felt like I forgot what I had intended to say.

Then I thought of six words…

“To be played at maximum volume.”

Those words were encrypted on the back cover of 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was the record that introduced me to Bowie and the message itself was as cocksure as any. It was like Babe Ruth calling his shot in the ’32 series. What a bonus, looking back, that the music turned out to be so good.

Ziggy Back Sleeve

So … screw it. I’m going to bang this thing out. Just keep in mind these are the (fragmented) thoughts of a still-somber fan.

I think it’s important to note that change for the sake of change is meaningless. What made Bowie special is that, in spite of the changing, he remained authentic. Whatever guise or alter ego he assumed, he was still unmistakably himself. That’s not to be overlooked. His own character and inner spirit shone through the characters that were mere inventions. That’s what made him so compelling as a writer and performer.

Music historians fall over themselves when they label him a shape-shifter and – the ultimate cliché – a “chameleon.” His contributions to music were immense, but we must not reduce Bowie to a glorified museum exhibit.

We need to remember music is experienced. It is chiefly personal.

I know Bowie’s death struck a personal chord with me. I thought back to when someone close to me passed away when I was in high school. I remember sitting alone in my room, listening to “Lady Stardust” over and over while I gathered my thoughts.

Other memories were more positive. Like how my best friend sang the “And the papers want to know whose shirts you we-ar-ar” line from “Space Oddity,” imitating Bowie’s voice the best he could.

One of the first CDs I purchased on my own was 2002’s Heathen.

I quickly found that the music – like its author – could bend and shape itself in any way that was needed.

I played “The Jean Genie” on my college radio show. And I used to push the master volume up way past what was allowed and cranked the speakers inside the studio, completely drowning out whatever conversation had been taking place prior. I was routinely told to turn it down – that I was in danger of blowing out a monitor. I took my chances.

It’s well documented that Bowie wrote differently in various environments. Every fan knows the difference between the Berlin songs and the London songs. He seemed to soak up the clamor of these locations, funneling ideas – mostly about loneliness, fatigue and love – through his own interpretive system. Albums, as a result, were released in a stunningly conceptual vein.

I once hung out with a guy who idolized Bowie. He wasn’t the skinny jeans, pompous, artsy type either. He liked his rock & roll. As did I. And we shared many discussions about Bowie over pints of Guinness.

It never bothered us that Bowie largely eschewed his rock label. Heck, the last release – Blackstar – went out of its way to avoid being contextualized as rock & roll.

“Rock music is always 10 years behind the rest of art,” Bowie once said.

But to us, Bowie was never better than when he played at maximum volume. The frequent combination of razor-sharp guitars and horns fueled some truly liberating moments in my life.

Bowie’s sound was so completely undeniable. It had so much to say to a kid who was happy to be on the road with his life in front of him.

“It makes me so mad that people concentrate on the lyrics,” he said. “It implies there’s no message in the music itself.”

I heard your message, David. Loud and clear.

David Bowie did what he wanted. I suppose we all pine for that. And the awe of his candor never really wore off. We treasured it then. And we treasure it now.

Bowie kept himself two steps ahead. And it was fun to tag along with a guy like that.

David Bowie – born David Robert Jones – was 69 years old.

Bowie 1

David Bowie at a Glance

-140 million albums sold to date

-Highest charting: The Next Day [2013]

-Number 1 singles: “Fame,” “Let’s Dance”

-A 2013 Rolling Stone reader’s poll ranked The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as his most popular album

Labyrinth had a budget of $25 million but only grossed $12 million in theaters. It has since become a cult classic. Everything from a four-volume sequel to graphic novels have been released in subsequent years.

-Bowie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. He is also a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame (based in Seattle).

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.

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