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A Few Thoughts on David Bowie

Heidi Shenk "a few things" music



On Friday morning, I excitedly opened Spotify to give David Bowie's Blackstar a test drive. It is what I often do when new albums come out that I am excited about. There wasn't much precursory information about the album, but of the information available, I was intrigued and excited. In addition, my brother in law had written his quick review about it on Facebook ("it was a bit weird"), which further piqued my interest. Having been a huge fan of David Bowie since middle school, this was a big deal.

As the title track of the album began playing, the "a bit weird" review made sense. It was dark and cacophonic and mysterious in a way that only Bowie could pull off. It was a new sound to my ears. I quickly shot my sister a text stating, "It IS a bit weird, but it's Bowie and Bowie is weird, and I sort of totally love it!" I sort of totally loved it enough that I played the album in full three or four more times to try and process what I was listening to.

Later that night, while cooking dinner and washing dishes, I played the album for Andrew. His first reaction was, "That's a bit morbid!" It was morbid and dark and deathly-- exact words I used to describe what we were listening to, but I couldn't shake it. Something about the album stuck in both a wondrous and unsettling way.

Yesterday morning, upon waking to the news of Bowie's death, I knew. I knew why I couldn't shake the feeling the album gave me. The album was meant to be released in this way, in time with his death. It was a final farewell in the same theatrical way that he'd always presented his persona-- almost a perfection in his art. He had created a piece of art that was meant to embody his death. He had succeeded. And it was heartbreaking.

This past weekend, I had already decided that I wanted to share a few words about Blackstar with you, much as I had shared a music post with you this past Friday as well as in the past. However, on Monday, I decided I needed to process what had happened instead and gather my thoughts on paper, so to speak.

In sixth grade, I began listening to the band Queen. My sister and I became quickly obsessed and one of my biggest music idols became Brian May. Naturally, through Queen, I learned about David Bowie. He was fascinating. He pushed the boundaries on so many levels through both his music and his various personas, and for lack of a better way of putting it, he was a weird dude.

Bowie made weird the new cool. And I resonated with that. I was the weird, odd one out. I wore whatever I wanted rather than following any fashion norms, I said what was on my mind even if it didn't align with the ideas of those around me, and American pop culture was mostly foreign to me since I didn't really grow up with many of the same experiences as my peers. Bowie made it ok to be weird, and so being weird was ok.

While my friends were listening to the Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync, I chose to listen to Bowie. I plastered my walls with photos of his various personas instead of photos of boy bands, and I hung a Bowie calendar from my bedroom door instead of one of Justin Timberlake. While my friends had crushes on Timberlake, I did not have a crush on Bowie. Rather, I was inspired by his creativity.

When I was in seventh grade, he released an album entitled Earthling. It was like nothing I had heard before. It was a mish mash of pop and electronica and trance and grunge guitar. It pushed the boundaries of what music was in my mind and made it clear that music didn't need to fit some formula for Top 40 radio. Without his music, I don't know that I would have the drive and hunger for finding new music like I do today.

On Monday, as I listened to Blackstar yet again, I found myself purchasing a vinyl copy of the album to keep. While the album is saddening, I wanted to have this piece of art in hand as a way to celebrate a majestic and innovative life the way I think he had wanted. It serves as a reminder for us all to continue choosing the path that is right for us even if it goes against social norms. Bowie loved what he did so much that he was willing to pursue his creative endeavors and push the boundaries of his art up until his death, living one incredibly full life. It may be a bit weird and strange and beautiful all at the same time, but if weird was ok with Bowie, then weird is ok with me.



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