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i can remember

maura @ 9:21 pm

I’ve been both surprised and not surprised by the huge outpouring of traditional and social media response to the recent and sudden death of David Bowie earlier this week. There were two separate 2 page spreads in the NY Times on Tuesday alone. Some folks I follow on Twitter who aren’t fans have expressed completely understandable perplexity (is that even a word?), which I totally get. I’m sure the circumstances surrounding his death have contributed to this as well — family and close friends keeping his illness so secret, his play starting its run last fall, his new album released on his birthday last week, on what ended up being two days before his death.

Speaking as a fan — not the hugest fan but fan enough that we have more than 10 of his albums — I was utterly gobsmacked. Again, the shock for sure (and also he was the same age as my parents are and I remain unprepared for and unpleased at the prospect of my parents dying). But I’ve read a few articles and essays written by fans, journalists, others and it’s remarkable how many common themes emerge. He was an incredibly talented weirdo who made amazing music that made the rest of us weirdos feel less weird.

The sheer length of his career also means that his music was almost always there at some point in many folks’ lives. That’s how I remember his music, more than anything, as flashes on a timeline, specific scenes:

– I’m 9 years old at my friend’s house. She has two older brothers, one in middle school and one in high school (I think), and we sneak into their rooms and steal their records to play on the turntable in her room. Changesonebowie is a favorite. My parents listen to lots of music at home but they never got into Bowie. Maybe a year or so later I ask for the album for my birthday or Christmas and it’s one of the first records I’ve ever owned that’s mine, not my parents’.

– I’m 14 years old and my family is just about to move halfway across the country (for the second time during my adolescence) from Columbia, Missouri to Wilmington, Delaware. Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour is set to hit Philadelphia that July. I beg and beg and beg to be allowed to go, but it doesn’t happen. Later on I learn that the live footage in the video for “Modern Love” was filmed at that show in Philly and I am so angry with my parents as only a 14 yr old can be.

– I’m 18 years old and have just graduated from high school, old enough to go to concerts in Philadelphia with my friends, thankyouverymuch. It’s the Glass Spider Tour, two nights at the enormous Veterans Stadium. It’s the one and only time I’ve ever slept out all night to get concert tickets, taking turns with friends sitting in the car and in line at the Christiana Mall, heading to Wawa for coffee early in the morning. The concert is incredible.

Later memories are not as snapshot-clear. I had a phase of listening to Low almost exclusively, over and over again. I saw Labyrinth in the theater, with the then-unknown Jennifer Connelly, and Absolute Beginners too. The cassette I made with Aladdin Sane on one side and Scary Monsters on the other side lasted forever, seemingly, until last year when we got rid of the car with the cassette deck. I also had the factory cassette of Ziggy Stardust that I played until it wore out — luckily Jonathan had the CD. I have kept that Changesonebowie record, for all these years, even though I never listen to it because those songs are all on other albums.

Bowie’s music was like a blanket, is still that way: it’s comforting, familiar, and there’s a song or album for any mood. We don’t have the last few of his most recent records but I’m pretty sure we would have bought Blackstar anyway, and Jonathan bought it for us on Monday. One day soon I hope I’m able to listen to it.

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