Monday, January 11, 2016

Farewell, David Bowie

Like most people (I gather), I was unaware that David Bowie was terminally ill — until I learned this morning that he had died of liver cancer two days after his 69th birthday.

I now know that he was sick for a year and a half. That, apparently, was something that was not generally known.

I have written about David Bowie three times before on this blog. The last two times were within the last year, when I observed the 40th anniversaries of the release of "Fame" and "Golden Years."

My first post was about the 40th anniversary of Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" album. In a few years, I hope to write about the 50th anniversary of "Space Oddity."

I was going to wait to mention this until I wrote about that anniversary of "Space Oddity," but now seems like a more appropriate time.

Anyway, here goes ...

I will always remember the first time I ever heard "Space Oddity." It was several years after the song was released. My family had spent the summer in Austria as part of a program in which the college where my father taught religion was a participant. It was meant primarily for students. They spent the summer at this university in Graz, Austria, took a summer course and got credit for it in college. Some members of the faculty always went along as chaperones, and there were other schools involved in the program as well.

My father took my mother, my brother and me with him to Austria one summer. It was a chartered flight, and the family stayed in the dorm at the university so it was a low–cost way to travel in Europe. My parents were only nominally enrolled in classes. It justified their presence since Dad wasn't the official chaperone. We were just kind of tag–alongs.

Anyway, it was on our flight back to the States at the end of the summer that I first heard "Space Oddity." The plane was approaching New York City, and I had my headphones set to popular music (there were several choices so there was something for every age group and taste). As I looked out the window at the New York skyline glowing in the darkness, "Space Oddity" came on. It was almost as if the music and the imagery I was seeing out my window had been painstakingly choreographed.

Ever since that night, "Space Oddity" probably has been my favorite David Bowie song.

But I am also fond of the two I wrote about last year — and I have always liked the "Diamond Dogs" album. I guess the thing I can say about Bowie is that my preference is for his earlier stuff. He seemed to be especially brilliant when he was still carving out his niche.

I've heard a lot of talk today about how Bowie's last album, "Blackstar," released just a few days ago, was his last gift to the world.

Those three things I have written about were Bowie's gifts to me. We never met, but those songs and that album have a lot of meaning for me, and they always will. And, as Forrest Gump would say, that's all I want to say about that.

I don't know yet if I will listen to Bowie's last album. Perhaps I will listen to it once in tribute to someone who was a remarkable talent — and was remarkably talented at confusing people. He seemed to take delight in doing it. That bothered some people. It never bothered me.

He never looked quite the same as he had the last time I saw him — or would the next time I saw him. He was always pushing boundaries — in his appearance, in his personal life, in his music.

Bowie never did things the way he was expected to do them. I guess his death — at the most unexpected time, except for those who knew he was sick, and many of them have said that they weren't prepared for it when it came — was the ultimate example.

Incidentally, I can understand why many of those who were close to Bowie had that reaction. I've had several friends who died of cancer. Without fail, in each case, I believed my friends would recover right up until the minute they died. And those deaths always hit me like a ton of bricks. I suppose Bowie's friends and family harbored a similar hope, that somehow he would recover. When that person dies, a piece of a survivor dies, too, because — in my experience, anyway — those survivors always hope that the afflicted individual will beat the cancer that is taking his life.

And they're always disappointed when he doesn't.

Likewise, I have known people who died completely unexpectedly, and I have wondered whether it is better to lose someone you care about suddenly or to have time to prepare yourself for the loss. And I have decided that, for those who are left behind, there really is no advantage to either. At least, it is that way with me. Even when I have known that someone I cared about was going to die, I haven't been able to adequately prepare myself for it.

There just is no good time to lose someone. I'm sure that is how Bowie's friends and family — and the millions of his fans the world over — are feeling tonight.