You might already know this about me: I love David Bowie. LOVE. I’m a super fan. I’ve read biographies. I’ve seen most of the movies. I talk about him constantly. I’ve dressed up as him… well… numerous times. I’m a little obsessed.
Tomorrow, his first album in a decade, The Next Day, which is being called the best comeback in rock history and which is frankly astonishingly good, will finally be released in full. I have pre-ordered it, and I have streamed it on iTunes at least once a day since it became streamable last Tuesday. I am so excited I might pee my pants. If he announces any concerts or a tour, I probably will pee my pants, and hopefully be able to go home early from work to play the new album really loud and dance around sans pants.
But anyway, the point here is: let’s talk about why Bowie is so important for a minute. A lot of my friends and family kind of smile and nod in a pat-me-on-the-head kind of way when I go into Bowie monologues, and some outright mock me for my fanaticism. This was upsetting for a while, since I utterly despise being condescended to and made fun of. But it eventually made me really sit down and consider why this man inspires me so much and what he and his work mean to me.
It’s complicated. But, like many young people my age, I’m sure, I first encountered Bowie in the movie Labyrinth, in which he’s wearing the most badass rock-mullet wig ever, incredibly tight tights, and a succession of cooler and weirder and more glamorous outfits. And so much makeup. So much makeup.
I think that David Bowie as Jareth the Gobling King in Labyrinth was the first exposure I had to androgyny. And it was undeniable sexy. He was acting in what was ostensibly a kids’ movie, across from an underage actress (Jennifer Connelly, also gorgeous) who was quite obviously a kid in the movie. But the storyline, Muppet-y as it might be, was undeniably dark and dangerous, and the chemistry that crackled between Bowie’s Jareth and Connelly’s Sarah was impossible to ignore. The man oozed confidence and sexuality, even through his tights and glitter.
To me, that became the definition of sexy. Slinky, gender-bending confidence. Passion. Dancing around in tights with goblins. Whatever.
And I knew I loved David Bowie. Because of Labyrinth. But then, I also loved Jim Henson and Jennifer Connelly and Sir Didymus. It was only as I got older and started to learn more about David Bowie that I began to really love the man. His ability to not only play with gender expectations, but to reinvent himself and his music and his art constantly, to break every rule of every genre, to say “fuck it” to convention and wear the weirdest shit and write the most bizarre lyrics and lead the rest of the pop art world into new forms… It was dizzying, overwhelming, and breathtaking.
The first times I saw photos of him in his Ziggy phase, in a leotard kimono with bell sleeves and a glittery moon on his forehead… Well, I cut the photos out of the magazine and plastered them all over my bedroom. I was floored. I had known since middle school that I was bisexual, but I was always modest in my presentation. I didn’t dress flashy. I didn’t really use glitter. But here was this guy, decades before me, who’d just done it and done it hard. It was inspirational and freeing to see someone just take the queerness and not wrestle with it, but instead make it a thing of beauty. And make it public. And make it a spectacle.
Over the years, as I heard more of his music and learned more about him, I operated under the blithe assumption that he was, in fact, an alien. Nobody human has balls like that, I reasoned with myself. I didn’t need to feel ashamed of my own fears and reluctance to act “out of the box” like he did, because I could never compete with a Starman, anyway. But I could watch from afar, fascinated and adoring. I could safely long to be as beautiful, as well-spoken, as radical, as wildly out of time and space and niche-creating… all without really putting myself on the line.
But then I started reading about David Bowie. I read biographies about his humble beginnings in the suburbs of London. About the fight that damaged his eye. About the years he spent toiling in darkness, yearning for the spotlight, dithering around with mime and dance and The Kon-Rads and pining away to be like the Beatles: famous and superhuman.
And how hard he worked. David Bowie, I learned, was not a supergenius alien I could never hope to be like. He was a human being. Albeit a human being with huge talent and a massive sense of self-assuredness, but a human nonetheless, who worked himself into the ground, never gave up, and never stopped believing in himself long enough to hear the naysayers. He changed his looks, his music, his medium. He went back on his own word, he trampled other people underfoot (which I don’t emulate, but which is a big part of his story and can’t be overlooked), he fearlessly kicked ass. And he just did because fuck it: he wanted to, that’s why. And you can just do the things you want to do. It’s not easy. But you can. So do it. Bowie did.
And the story continues. The more I learn about this man, and how actually human he is, the more I respect him. And the more I realize that he’s worth the admiration, because not only did he give a real face to multiple generations of budding queers, but he did it with finesse and dignity and gravity. Knowing as much as I do about David Bowie makes me feel confident in my reserve. The modesty I’ve always carried around with me, sometimes with disdain, is part of who I am, and that’s ok. I can still make incredible art. I can still write inspirational words for whoever wants to read them, about radical ideas and somber musings alike. And I can sometimes go off the wall and be as un-modest as I want, because fuck it: I want to, that’s why. Bowie is ever-changing, and even his new album is a testament to how chameleon-like his glitter can be–even when he’s not wearing glitter–but he is also a constant. The constant part being that he does what he wants and he does it as hard as he fucking can, and he does it for the world to see, unashamed and beautiful.
And I don’t care whether you really get my obsession or not, doing it because fuck it: let’s change something is a resplendent goal that everyone can get behind.