David Robert Jones | David Bowie
I wasn't even alive when David Bowie first got started. - he was, after all, my parents' age. I was in high school when Changesbowie came out (1990), and it was on permanent repeat (or the analog version of it, since it was a cassette) for months. My best friend Share and I pretty much wore that thing out, interspersed with Billy Idol and the soundtrack to Lost Boys, during the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years.
That the album itself was a compilation of earlier music was lost on me, despite the album cover showing so many of his varied personae:
He was beautiful and theatrical and strange, thin like Jack Pumpkinhead from Nightmare Before Christmas, and with an impossibly haunting high-low voice. I would catch glimpses in magazines of the pink hair, the shadowy makeup, the sculptural or strange or barely-there clothing. This was Sugar City, Idaho, now. People wear regular clothes, not crazy clothes. Boys don't wear makeup, or a pink wig that was possibly not even a wig. We don't do things that are weird, and it is not ok to be weird.
Trouble was, in my little town of 1200, in 1990, I WAS weird. Angry and lost and weird. And hell, I thought his pink possibly-not-a-wig was amazing. His androgyny was alluring, and scary to me for its allure.
Changesbowie was ABOUT change, in a time when I myself was changing. He was a master of invention, and every song on this album was different because each was a snapshot in time of an ultimate musical chameleon. And that voice. How could such a voice - so gorgeously and hugely glam, turn dance-pop in Let's Dance, and haunting in Space Oddity, and never sound inauthentic?
Because he - at least what we all believe is the real he, really was all those things. Theatricality and complexity, showmanship without self-aggrandization, earnestness and unresolved feeling and that body and makeup captivating like an otherworldly sculpture.
I've been reading a lot about him today. And remembering that within a few years of the first time I was singing along to Changes:
“Turn and face the strange
Oh look out now you rock and rollers
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”
And belting the gorgeous chorus of "Let's Dance":
If you say run, I'll run with you
If you say hide, we'll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,
I myself would be turning to face strange changes he was only hinting about. I, who didn't even OWN a pair of red shoes, would indeed learn what it means to dance the blues - that it would be a lifelong dance (maybe danced to Space Oddity, even, because if you really listen, WOW.). And yes, of course, I would need red shoes for it. (I own 3 pairs now, btw).
I especially enjoyed this New York Times article about him.
Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?
I guess I was as shocked as everyone that he suddenly dropped an album after seeming to disappear for so many years. What! A new Bowie album. And then to find out this morning that this gift of new music would be (as he knew) his parting gift to the world.
I think his most haunting song for me is Space Oddity. That crazy slant-harmony, and the bittersweet ending, with the anxiety and peace and not-quite knowing what happened. Beautiful. Here's the original:
And here is the first music video ever recorded in space, Space Oddity by Commander Chris Hadfield, aboard the ISS.
The stars look very different today, Major Tom.
Put On Your Red Shoes
Changesbowie was one of my growing-up albums, and in some ways, he was the alter-ego to what I had around me. His message to me was that it's ok to be absolutely, wildly, creatively, boldly YOURSELF - seeing layers of joy and sadness and future and past and what could be, with a little loneliness, yes. But with an acceptance that your very strangeness is what makes you. That complex emotion is ok. That it's ok to earnestly be and think and believe and relish a million things authentically. That reality is our own to make, if we can envision it. And that if we want to wear red shoes, we should damn well wear them.