Editor’s Note: Whenever someone is lost who had a huge influence on our lives, we allow as many of our staff as want to write a tribute to do so. Here are two heartfelt tributes to David Bowie from staff writers Katrina Smith and Raven Knighte.
For many of us children of the eighties, our first contact with David Bowie wasn’t his mind blowing music or his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust—it was as Jareth in Labyrinth, the mesmerizing, beautifully terrifying Goblin King with his famous tight pants. That Bowie stare and sneer captivated so many of us as kids, promising something we didn’t even know we needed yet. Later, as teens, we’d reach for the other music he’d made, falling in love with Bowie for a whole new reason. More often than not something would echo from deep inside ourselves as we heard the first few, masterful notes. I loved his music, but I came to him first through Labyrinth.
Later, during my first semester of college, Labyrinth became a way for me to find my tribe: one of my roommates, who was to become close as a sister, had a VHS copy she’d recorded from TV. Have you seen Labyrinth? We’d ask new people. We’d settle down on the hard floor of a dorm, a bunch of scared kids far from home, pretending to be adults. They’d watch Bowie make promises and terrifying transformations, and I’d watch our new friends watching Bowie. Labyrinth nights became a regular fixture, once going so far as to break into a friend’s room to get at our one collective copy. We’d quote the movie, sing along with the songs, talk about our own freak selves and what we really wanted out of life. These became my people, and if I were to text any of them “you remind me of the babe” right now, they’d immediately text me back “the babe with the power”—even if we haven’t talked in years.
Visionaries, self-labeled weirdos, the androgynous, artists of all stripes—David Bowie spoke to us all. He told every freak of us it was okay to be our inner selves—more than okay, but a kind of beautiful blessing; that in doing so we were not only living our most truthful lives, but also making the world a little better for the awkward kids that would come after us, easier for them to tell their odd little stories, reach for the war paint, carry off the glitter and the menswear and the confident gravitas he knew was hiding inside each of us. He led by example, a legend in blue eyeshadow and tight pants, showing us the path was open as long as we kept faith in ourselves, dismissing and ignoring irrelevant judgment as it came. Even when I wasn’t listening to his music, there was a certain comfort in knowing he was striding around in the world making art and truth, a giant too cool to die and leave us all behind.
Except he has, now, and despite knowing he’s a human like the rest of us, there’s a hollow sort of shock setting in. This meme showcasing twelve of his most famous looks suggests he’s a Time Lord, and on the one hand, it makes a desperate kind of sense—just like our favorite Doctor, never has someone seemed both so immortal and so very human; just like the Doctor, he saved a lot of us from ourselves before we even knew we needed saving—but on the other, he’s fought through his own labyrinth, his life, and he’s earned a right to rest easy. In true Bowie fashion, he even left us a piece of himself on the way out. May we all have the chance to choose our own last words so well.
Goodbye, David Bowie. Thank you for believing in your vision, and for showing us how to believe in our own. I hope you know how much you influenced all of us, and how much of our art will always carry your DNA.
Ziggy Stardust. Aladdin Sane. The Thin White Duke. David Jones. BOWIE. David Bowie’s music and art have been an undercurrent in my life since I was a kid. There are a few things in particular that stick out, and I’d like to share that if it’s alright… I’m a bit emotional right now so I apologize if this is a bit rambly…
During the summer of 1977, my uncles gave me and my sister permission to play their record collection. I discovered a David Bowie album. The artwork on the cover intrigued me – not so much the subject of the art, but the style pulled me in. I put the record on, slid the liner notes out of the dust jacket, and read the lyrics along with the song. My mind was blown. It was the first time I had ever been allowed to select my own music. Up until then, my music choices were largely controlled by my mom. But, after hearing about The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, I made a conscious decision to never let anyone choose what I listen to again. Little did I know at that time that this choice would affect my future child in the most positve and amazing way!
For my daughter’s 10th birthday, I took her to a record store to pick out her first CD – the first one she would own. She browsed through the stacks, and pulled out a copy of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. She looked at the cover art, and pronounced it cool. I told her I had something to show her. We paid for it, and went home. I pulled out the vinyl album, and compared the covers – it had been duplicated for the CD. It was then that I noticed that the CD release was an anniversary edition. She proceeded to start collecting Bowie music whenever she could. David Bowie is still a huge influence on both our lives – we still do the “Dance Magic” thing from “Labyrinth” and we are drawing my grandson into the fold. He likes the movie, and he’s only 6 and still a bit young to “get it” but he loves to hear Ziggy play guitar!
A friend of mine passed away after dealing with depression and associated anorexia. At the funeral, his family played “The Man Who Sold the World,” and I still think of him when I hear that song. It’s been over twenty years, and I still cry. David Bowie’s music is a large part of the soundtrack of my life, serving to remind me of the good, the bad, and the strange things that have happened. And I feel every bit of it.
One thing about music is that it can be fluid and permanent at the same time. Some stuff is here and gone, and other stuff goes on, outliving the artist who created it. To me, a Bowie song is like a Picasso or Escher painting – abstract, yet very much concrete in the feelings it conveys. Whenever I watch his videos, I always get the feeling that he is loving every second of performing. The cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” that he did back in the ’80s with Mick Jagger always cheers me up. But today feels more like the ballroom scene from “Labyrinth”… the glass walls have shattered, and all I see are rainbow shards of what were. You will be missed, David Bowie.