This is one of many, many pieces that will be written about David Bowie in the coming days, weeks, and months. And, as such, even as I type this, it feels slightly redundant. But, at the same time, it feels absolutely necessary – as contradictory as that sounds. And that’s why I think so many pieces will be written about him: because so many people feel that it’s necessary to say something. Because we’re all feeling this profound sense of loss for someone most of us never met. Someone who has no connection to our lives. How can you feel this way about someone who had no connection to your life?
Because, of course, he did. The music. The music was the connection.
When I first heard of his death and I was reading some of the tributes, I initially thought, “Well, even though he wasn’t of my generation, I still love his music.” Then, I realised he was of everyone’s generation. Whether you were there in the beginning for Ziggy or Aladdin Sane; whether you first heard him in the 80s with “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl”; or whether it was as recent as 2013’s “Where Are We Now?” It doesn’t matter because, somewhere along the line, you made the connection with the music. At some stage, you recognised that there was this figure – ever-present throughout the history of rock music – that loomed large, someone who did whatever he wanted, who didn’t follow but led, who told you, “Don’t be afraid to take that step into the abyss.”
As Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare: “He was not of an age but for all time.” There aren’t many people you could say that about but David Bowie was one of them.
So, the connection. I remember hearing The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for the first time. My best friend at the time borrowed the (vinyl) album from his girlfriend’s brother, who was five years older than us and a massive Bowie fan. I, in turn, borrowed it from my friend. I remember sitting in my bedroom, putting it on the turntable, and hearing this extraordinary sound come from the speakers.
In fact, even before listening to the music, I remember looking at the cover in a state of wonder. Who was this tall, thin, alien-like creature staring so confidently out at me, his hand on his hip, guitar slung across his back? And the titles! “Moonage Daydream,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, “Lady Stardust”, “Suffragette City”…
As a young teenager, listening to U2, and just beginning to discover the likes of Dylan and Springsteen, this music was something else entirely. And it was about more than just the music. Sure, the music was key, but it was the fact that there was another human being (if he could be called that) who was an outsider just like you. An alien, a visitor to this planet. Someone who just didn’t quite fit in. David Bowie gave many things to music over the years, but he gave as much to society and to the breaking down of gender stereotypes and to helping those who felt alienated to feel a little bit less so.
But, back to the music. I’ve listened to a lot of David Bowie music – both old and new – in the intervening decades. Some I liked, some I didn’t, some I loved. But I think that album will always have that special connection for me.
And I’m sure it’s the same for everyone. I’m sure everybody has that one album, that one song that means so much to them. That’s why the world seemed a sadder and emptier place the day we heard the news that Major Tom had gone back to space one last time.
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Derek’s short story “The Healer” was recently featured in Surge, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. He is also a regular contributor to http://www.writing.ie where he writes his “Songbook” column. And because he obviously has a lot of time on his hands, he is currently working on his latest solo album.
Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt.