By JT Ellison
I was up with the cat, giving her some food and love, when the notification buzzed on my iPad — David Bowie, dead from cancer at 69.
It is inevitable, these deaths. I am at an age now where this is becoming more and more clear.
But sitting on the floor, feeding my ailing cat in the middle of the night, was not when I expected one to come.
Bowie, man. Bowie.
Many will do him justice in print today. I just wanted to get down some thoughts about how much he influenced me. He was the grooviest cat, the man who broke all the boundaries, whose search for his authentic self through his art. He became his art. I respect the hell out of that.
You see, it was a Bowie song that inspired my very first book.
OK, it’s not a book. It’s a weird little handwritten short story I penned when I was 11, which ended up bound, and lives in my office drawer with all the rest of my early attempts at creativity.
It’s called The Samaritan: Part Two. I have no idea why it’s Part Two. I don’t recall ever writing Part I. Even at 11, I was sure every story needed to start in media res.
I have older brothers, both of whom had excellent taste in music. I believe it was Jay, though, the eldest, 11 years older than me, whose collection I most often raided — mostly because his room was totally, completely, 100 percent off limits to me, so when he wasn’t home, I’d sneak in and play his records. Yes, I was a brat. My middle brother, Jeff, never told on me, either. (Sorry, Jay!)
In Jay’s room, I discovered a whole new world.
Heart. Jethro Tull. Pink Floyd. Deep Purple. Procol Harum. Blue Oyster Cult.
Bowie especially affected me. Space Oddity, in particular, set my imagination asoar. So simple, so evocative. NASA’s worst nightmare. Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?
We grew up in an aerospace family. My dad worked for Lockheed Martin. They sent rockets to space. (At one point, the entire family did — both my brothers and me and Daddy; Daddy and Jeff retired, I quit, but Jay still does.) Growing up, there were telescopes, and star gazing. Science fiction dominated the bookshelves. Star Trek was practically required watching. The idea that there was more out there, infinite space, was something my dad instilled in us all, and I’m sure shaped my desires for knowledge.
When I listened to Space Oddity, over and over and over, I felt, in my own childish way, the song was written for me.
So I wrote a story about a man named Max, an astronaut, who is abandoned on Mars when his ship, and crew mates, explodes.
(Yes, I wrote a variation of THE MARTIAN when I was 11. I did not science the shit out of it, though.)
Space Oddity started my lifelong love of Bowie. Ashes to Ashes, China Girl, The Man Who Sold The World. Genius, all. The man could reinvent himself at will, though he did it with so much thought, so much care. He was always willing to break down the preconceptions, about music, life, sexuality, everything.
In short, Bowie was awesome. I pushed his music on everyone I knew. Some got it, some didn’t.
When I was 18, on a school trip to the UK, my best friend and I met up with a cute guy in a bar in Edinburgh. We were talking music, the Clash, a band he liked called King, and I began my usual proselytizing about Bowie. He completely freaked — he was a Bowie junkie. And I mean, junkie. This guy had traveled the world going to Bowie concerts, and made bootleg tapes of them all.
He offered to make copies and send them. My desire for law and order ( I despise piracy, did then and still do) was pushed aside, and I gave him my address, figuring he’d never follow through.
But he did! A few weeks later, a package arrived, with fifteen or so bootlegs concert tapes.
I wore them out. I played them and played them and played them. They were my prized possession. I was rarely without at least one of them in my car and in my Walkman.
Until my senior year of college, when someone stole them. I have a sneaking suspicion who (you BITCH!) The loss of those tapes was so hurtful. My special connection to the musician I revered, gone forever.
Suffice it to say, I am a lifelong Bowie fan. I even wrote his fabulous heterochromia into my Taylor Jackson series. Just a small honor. When I heard he’d died, a small part of my childhood did, too.
I started my day with Space Oddity, at 3:00 a.m., singing it to myself as I tried (and failed) to fall back asleep, shedding tears for a man I’d never met, but who shaped so much of my life.
Bowie has a new album out. I don’t have the heart to go play it right now. But I will. And I know he’ll find a way to make my imagination take flight, as he always does.
May God’s love be with you, David Bowie, you fabulous creature. You live on in all our hearts.
Via: JT Ellison