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Ah David, Ah Tom, Ah Ziggy, Ah Duke. Bless you charming and generous astronaut.

January 11, 2016

alien

Singing is acting.  Or at least it has been ever since the invention of the microphone and the phonograph.  To know that you don’t have to fill a big room with sound any more – that you can whisper and be heard, is to open up the world of song to a world of acting.

This one hurts.  I cannot quickly process the fact of a  world without David Bowie, the more so because of his other-worldliness.  This is tough. I can’t manage an obituary – I’m not clever, calm, or well informed enough.  All I can manage is a peculiar mess of love and hurt.  I can’t think of anyone else who I’m sure we felt we always knew and always felt we never knew at one and the same time.

David Bowie was an actor and a popular stage performer.  He was fascinated by Anthony Newley, and eager to work with Bing Crosby because he knew that Crosby had created the first modern singing to bring phrasing  and intimacy to the world of song.  Bowie was also a philosopher of acting.  Song might be all about self expression, but what is “self” anyway?  To adopt a persona is not to hide from the self but to extend the self.  David Bowie truthfully wore masks because, like Walt Whitman – he contained multitudes.

David Bowie was an explorer.  He traveled to strange  places on our behalf and took risks getting there and living there.  And always there was the fragility in the voice, the exquisite loneliness that connected.  It was important to him (but more important for us) that he was popular – that he retained a connection to tunes we could all hum and to media to which we all had access.   There have been artists who have been stranger and more avant garde than Bowie, perhaps, but none who have combined innovation with generosity to the same extent.  He was the space alien who wanted to connect, not alienate.  Born with one of the most boring names on earth (a name that he had to change to avoid confusion with a tiny Monkee), that sense of (and respect for) the ordinary and mundane remained with him always.  Unfailingly polite and respectful, he was – for much of his life –  of the most grounded of rock stars.

Nobody else could sound like they were broadcasting to the world from outer space yet whispering a private message in your ear at one and the same time.

Nobody sounded more human and yet extra-terrestrial at the same time.

In other words, David Bowie was (still not used to the past tense and never will be) a popular, intimate, experimental, mainstream, heroic, frightened, serious and hilarious man who extended our sense of what it means to be human.

One day, we will tell our grandchildren that we shared a planet with him for a while.

And they may not believe us.

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