It goes without saying that I’m saddened by David Bowie’s passing, but I’m not going to spend much time waxing poetic about what an impact he had on my life. In fact, I’m going to be honest and admit that I didn’t truly delve into Bowie’s catalog until around five years ago. I was born in 1978, around the time that Bowie was releasing his” Berlin” albums, so beyond his 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the sounds of his classics on the radio throughout my childhood, I can’t truly say his music shaped my youth. I do vividly remember seeing Labyrinth in my hometown theater with my brothers, which is a bit surprising since I would have only been seven years old (I’m guessing that I still remember this nugget due simply to how shocking the imagery of the film must have been at that age).
With all of this said, I still would consider myself a huge Bowie fan. My exploration into the universe of Bowie over the past few years has been an eye-opening, invigorating experience. His influence on my life has more to do with how he inspired musicians that I grew up listening to than the direct effect of growing up with his music. Who could forget Kurt Cobain singing “The Man Who Sold the World” on MTV Unplugged or the Bowie/Trent Reznor collaboration on “I’m Afraid of Americans”? As I listen to his music today, I realize the profound impact he had on the music of modern acts like St. Vincent, Destroyer, and Arcade Fire. I marvel at how otherworldly and weird his music still sounds today and wonder how shocking it must have been back in the 70s. To sit down and listen to albums like Hunky Dory and Low is an emotionally staggering experience.
But instead of truly mourning our culture’s huge loss yesterday, I felt strangely annoyed. At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly contrarian, something about all of the outpouring of sadness and reverence on social media felt insincere. I don’t want to go as far as Sunday Times Film Critic Camilla Long whose tweet that people needed to “Man the FUCK UP” has been met with a major backlash. For me to suggest that people aren’t allowed to express their appreciation and heartbreak would be ludicrous, but there’s something about a 120-character eulogy that feels a little cheap.
I feel misled when someone like Justin Timberlake tweets “Thank you for showing a pimple- faced, curly mopped kid that DIFFERENT was THE THING TO BE.” Since when did the teen heart-throb have: A. Pimples B. Do something considered different C. Create music that was in any way influenced by Bowie’s strange concoctions? Again, I have no right to question someone’s love of Bowie. For all I know, Timberlake was jamming out to Station to Station while on N’Sync’s “No Strings Attached” Tour. I just can’t help but feel that much of the grief conveyed by celebrities is more of a PR move than a true message of sorrow (I struggle to believe that posts by the likes of LeBron James, Josh Groban, and Oliva Munn were anything more than messages concocted by their publicists). It almost feels like a competition to see who can come up with the wittiest, most poignant take on Bowie’s life (this isn’t too difficult when much of the source material contains lyrics about leaving planet Earth and visiting the stars).
If the Twittter responses were slightly annoying, my Facebook feed was enraging. There’s the college friend who I remember blasting Tim McGraw from his dorm room, posting an image of Bowie with a misappropriated quote. There’s the ex-girlfriend who never understood when I called us “a couple of kooks,” posting how she was “speechless” about the death of a 69-year old man who battled cancer for 18 months. And the worst of them all, the former high school classmate/resident bully who used to refer to others as “dweebs” and “fairies,” posting how Bowie showed us all it was okay to be weird (I have difficulty turning down friend requests, especially those from guys who used to give me wedgies).
As I sat scowling at my phone, scrolling through one Bowie post after another, I realized that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on social media, annoying myself with each flick of my thumb. I set my phone down, put Ziggy Stardust on the stereo, laid back, and allowed the Star Man to blow my mind, one song at a time (hey, I should go tweet that!).