There are nearly no words, except there will be so many of them.
The last unicorn is dead.
I went to bed earlier last night. Turned the phone on silent. Missed the text from my friend Bob at 11:33pm with a message: “Did you hear?”
I had just received news that my estranged uncle had died. An already shitty day had become worse. So I went to sleep. No, I did not hear. I missed the news. “Stay strong,” my friend Susan wrote on Twitter, just before midnight. “Especially with the other news you’ll be seeing after waking up. Hugs”
I got in the shower this morning, and came back into the bedroom. “I’m sorry you have to hear this from me,” my partner said. “But… David Bowie.”
BUT DAVID BOWIE.
This past Friday, on the day of David Bowie’s birth, on the day of the release of his album Blackstar, I greedily downloaded it – take all my money! – and then… I didn’t listen to it. I put it into a magical pearl box in my mind. I locked it there. It did not deserve to be listened to at work, or in fragments or while waiting for the bus. I needed time. Headspace. Attention. Reverence.
I still haven’t listened to it, and doing so today might be too painful.
As a child, I’d always heard Bowie around me, but was of the generation after Ziggy and a different kind of cocaine years. My era was Let’s Dance. I was fascinated by this floofy blonde, beautiful man with heterchromia and that voice! Oh that voice. Rumbling, belting, soulful, sexual. And his interviews! He was smarter, more charismatic, more artful, more experienced, more of EVERYTHING than anyone who ever interviewed him. I dreamed that one day I would sit across from David Bowie. It was never to be, of course.
In 1986, I remember my jaw hanging down as I watched him in the film Labyrinth in the theatres and, not for the reason ours do now when we go back and look at his tight leggings.
Bowie was a golden god, a ridiculous wigged King of Trolls, and as a 13-year-old goth I couldn’t imagine anything cooler. I plundered his other movies, and got deeply confused by them. The Hunger. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
I consumed his music like food, though it wasn’t until my 30s that I understood which ones were bad for me, which ones filled me up. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started to realize truly how OTHER he really was. Alien perfection.
On August 24, 1987 I sat on a hill, in an RV camp, overlooking fields in Quebec, resenting my parents so deeply I can still taste it, because back in Toronto, David Bowie and Duran Duran were co-headlining an arena show at the CNE in Toronto and I was stuck outside a motorhome in the next province over. I never saw Bowie live. It will be one of my biggest regrets.
On September 23, 1999, I was getting drunk at the Much Music Video Awards (Canada’s MTV equivalent) where Bowie was performing. The awards used to take place in different rooms and stages around Much Music’s building and for a while before it became all huge and corporate, musicians roamed freely, slippery on the free booze and oxygen bars (that was a thing) that Much had sprinkled all around the studios.
I’d met countless heroes both Canadian and international there – talked to Alice Cooper about being on the Muppet Show, found KISS’ Paul Stanley standing around alone, met Robbie Robertson, Bryan Adams, Geddy Lee, some Backstreet Boys – but at this one, Bowie was performing and I would make it a mission to find him. I mean, they had to get him from the stage through the crowd into a Green Room where they were sequestering him, right? I headed over to the stage.
After he finished performing, security rushed him off, and through a small cordoned-off pathway. I remember the second as if it a film’s slow-mo montage. I practically ran to the sidestage, shouting “DAAAAAAAAAAAAVID” – which in my head sounded like a 7-inch played at 33rpm. My flailing right arm reached out forward, my left spilling a drink, but I managed to grab his arm, palm down on his grey blue sweater. The crowd surged. I never saw David Bowie again.
I stood shaking at a bar, telling the bartender that I’d just touched David Bowie. “Don’t ever wash it,” he said, in hushed tones. He was serious, too.
Over the years, the ACTUAL of him, not just the OTHER of him, his music, became more forceful in my life. I started to consume Bowie, read Angie’s awkward biography, listened intently. For a while, when he was new at Twitter, Duncan Jones – his son, aka Zowie – and I would chat about rubbish, and once I sent him this photo with a joke. “I can’t believe I used to go out in that thing,” Duncan shot back. I delighted in this one degree of separation, even though I admired Duncan for his own film-making reasons.
On Friday as “mastered for iTunes!” Blackstar downloaded onto my computer, and Bob rounded out the day by playing live Bowie tracks in the office, I said: ”Man, when it’s his time, when Bowie goes, the universe will have a hole. It will be larger than the sun and nothing will fill it.”
This morning as tears welled up in my eyes I hugged my partner. “It’s okay, he said as I sniffed. He was an alien. He’s just going home.”
I’m writing this through a lot of tears.
Today there is a hole in the universe greater than the sun, and Bowie will fill it. You are a blackstar. \m/
photos with gratitude by Jimmy King, Masayoshi Sukita
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