Today's writing is still a little bumpy and raw, so I present instead some writing I did about David Bowie a few months ago. So weird in retrospect. I so clearly loved Bowie with my mind and my will, but I loved Prince with my heart.
I keep thinking about this article about collective grief.
And Prince had that glow, didn’t he? His gift, the moment he took it into his arms, was large enough to trail moon magic with him. Do you sometimes ache for that knowing and courage, and the fullness of that kind of light? I do.
Like all grief, collective grief is a powerful force for transformation, if we let it be. What are you longing for? Are you willing to see it, to take it in, to surrender to it, to love it the way you love the gifts of others?
I miss them both in a way I cannot explain, but I know that a tiny part of the grief is fear. Fear that I'm not willing to see my longing, to love myself and my vision the way I loved them.
DAVID BOWIE, YOU GUYS.
I can fairly precisely map out my David Bowie relationship.
I remember once sitting in the passenger seat of my mom's big, brown, 1980s Ford Bronco (the same make and model as OJ) and for some reason discussion bowie knives and David Bowie. I asked my mom about bowie knives and somehow we talked about David Bowie, and that is the first time I remember hearing his name.
Strangely, for a kid who watched a lot of MTV in the 80s, I somehow didn't internalize Bowie. I must have seen his videos, but I was too entranced by the (Bowie-derivative) hair metal of the time (I was five, gimme a break). I remember the cover of Poison's Look what the Cat Dragged In album (I had the cassette!), and feeling all KINDS of things. Confusion, excitement, jealousy, ambition. I had no idea if these were men, or women, or what. And I loved it. Bowie had long since moved on from glam, and aside from Labyrinth (which I didn't see until college) I don't think 1986 was a year for new Bowie fans.
Anyway, fast forward to high school. A constellation of minor influences appear in my life and they all point at Bowie: Placebo had a radio hit and I discovered Brian Molko, I start listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana, and I start to think maybe I should know more about this guy. The AOL-ified internet tells me there's some kind of Ewan McGregor movie about David Bowie, or something? I immediately have to see it.
It was Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine. I loved it. I LOVED IT SO MUCH. I loved everything about it, including and especially everything I didn't quite understand. It felt and still feels like a tender, soft part of my heart.
Velvet Goldmine was easily the most formative film of my adolescence. I saw it because I was obsessed with Ewan McGregor and also androgyny, so it combined them both and I basically transformed into a Velvet Goldmine fanfiction monster. I can't watch the film anymore without like 13 fanfic backstories for each scene in my head. The film has this dream-like quality--it's not clear what's real and what is a figment of a character's imagination. Velvet Goldmine laid a fanboy-ish spell on me that was ALSO reflected in the film's characters, who are suffering from/celebrating their own fanboyish spells and internal narratives. His characters are queer ambitious weirdos and I obviously have taken that model to heart. It helped me make sense of my own attraction to glitter and fire and daydreams and ambition and lust and the peculiar heady mixture of those things.
Suddenly I wanted to know all about Bowie, and Iggy, and Lou Reed, and I did my damnedest. I searched obsessively (probably on Yahoo?!). I spent my little cash on albums. I LOVED this shit. I did not really get Bowie musically. I really got the Stooges musically. My friend Jessica was the first person I knew with a CD-R drive and and she kindly downloaded a bunch of David Bowie songs and burned them for me.
I also want to tell you a story about my mom. The Man Who Fell to Earth was filmed in the town where I was born--a town that has ALSO been immortalized (I hope) in an MKT dance (coincidence...or is it?). When Bowie was in town, my mom went there and, like, hung out with him? And asked my grandma to bring him ice cream, because he asked her to, and my grandma did. Everyone says he was super nice.
Watching the movie for the first time in my 20s was a bizarre experience. Suddenly a town I have no real love for has a ghostly trace of my hero running through it. The church where I spent an unhappy evening at a lock-in? David Bowie had been there. It's a film that paralleled reality, only it involves aliens. In the film, David Bowie mopes around and doesn't fit in; in real life, I mope around and don't fit in.
(Someday I will write about aliens).
Anyway I love to think of myself wandering the streets in high school as a little ghost of David Bowie, dressed up, emphatically NOT from there, not the same species, not the same anything. Before I even knew about any of this, I clung to my outsiderness and wore it as armor, as mating call, as art--because I knew it could be possible--not even from David Bowie himself, but from the countless outsider weirdos he influenced who in turn influenced me.
It's not hard to see that influence in Mad King Thomas' work. I mean, we've used his music. We went through a whole glittery blond phase. We like bombast and queerness and aliens. And I don't know how we would have made our work without his imprint. I spent most of our time in Blacklock listening to Low, which, in a total panic, I asked Paul to send me--HOW COULD I GET THROUGH THESE TWO WEEKS WITHOUT THAT ALBUM? I listened to it in the house, in the forest, while dancing, all the time. I had just seen Keith Hennessy and was still sort of magic-ed into a strange frame of mind.
Bowie was, I'm sure, not the magical being we're all remembering him as, but he was miraculous. (Okay, actually I'm SURE he was the magical being we're remembering him as, I'm pretty sure he was a wizard.) He was ambitious and strange before it became a thing. Willing to reinvent and reinvent and reinvent. As MKT crosses the first decade mark, it's been very apparent that our work is going to look different--a lot less Ziggy. And it's comforting to see someone who was willing to do a different thing and to see an audience that followed.
Plus, we also have a death-as-art shebang planned, so I'm glad to see it worked out for him.
I will miss David Bowie. But I've been listening to his records for a long time now and there are new resonances all the time. So I think it'll be a while before I feel like I've run out of Bowie in my life. I am so relieved to get this reminder of the power of art in the lives of individuals. I hate the fetishization of Creativity And Art that I hear so often. But I do know that my life is better for his courageous and bizarre vision (and the ambition that pushed him to the level of stardom he eventually achieved). And I hope I can be that person for someone. I hope when I die people in Albuquerque will gather and reenact my creations and sing my songs and live a happy hopeful life.