My first college roommate was pure evil.
It was during my first freshman semester that I suffered my first significant breakdown/depressive episode, and he spent a great deal of time encouraging me to kill myself and thin the herd, as I was obviously weak and needed to die. (Not exaggerating. I still recall his thin blond smile and his laughing at my tears.)
He was also obsessed with David Bowie, looked superficially like him, and played his albums constantly.
My first experience of Bowie’s music was, therefore, that it was the soundtrack of betrayal — I knew the guy from high school and thought of him as a friend.
Man, I really hated that music.
My “friend” didn’t come back for the second semester, and I ended up with a single room.
Spring of 78, I discovered that I missed Bowie’s music and started buying the albums; I then got into punk and found a partner in listening to it with a floor mate who later became a bit of a rockstar herself and was also a Bowie fan.
Slowly, I became a fan myself, although not a fan the way some folks are…
A couple of years later, I recall making my best friend listen to “Ziggy Stardust” from front to back to help him understand what made Bowie so appealing….kept buying albums…“Let’s Dance” became huge. Everyone I knew was a Bowie fan all of a sudden…saw the Glass Spider tour at Foxboro Stadium; loved it.
I bought his albums till the early 90s…and then I kinda forgot about Bowie for a while.
Mostly because of my surprise when it came out without warning, I bought “The Next Day.” I loved it.
So I bought “Blackstar” right away, right before he died. And I loved it.
Still do, even after the revelations of the last couple of days.
Yeah, I’m still a fan of Bowie’s work…and yet…and yet. There’s that story of the statutory rape…and I’m in a difficult moment, as so many are.
But then, there’s this…Back in the 80s, I did big arena concert security as a part-time job. Saw a lot of shows, and learned something I think is valuable to me and perhaps to others here: you should NEVER venerate an artist for who you think they are based on their art.
Back in the 80s I saw a lot of rock stars doing incredible, awful things backstage, enough to see what the cult of celebrity and wealth and privilege could do to people – and like a lot of artists, many were people who were often damaged in the first place. I saw it across the board; very few of those folks stuck out as “nice folks.”
I still like David Bowie’s music. I do. I think these last couple of albums have something to say to an aging poet like me, something about what you keep doing in the face of your mortality, of your death.
But there’s a place I’ve gone to in these last few days where I can say that while this art is important to me, I also must acknowledge that this artist was problematic and/or did disturbing things. I don’t have to choose sides or be defensive about it to acknowledge it is true.
Artists aren’t often your image of them. They are people. They suck. They’re magnificent. They will break your heart and mend it. They will damage you and fix you. They will do what they do. Sometimes, their art reflects that dichotomy; sometimes it won’t. But it’s always there.
I have to admit, though, it’s not a comfortable place to be right now, in these days after Bowie’s death. Then again, I don’t have a lot of comfortable places to stand anymore in 2016, in the USA.
Please send directions if so. I’d like to find that spot. I think a lot of us would.