As a teenager, many of the girls around me who had a rabid (libidinous?) fetish for horses later had a rabid, libidinous fetish for David Bowie. It seemed best to not intrude between girls and their horses or their David Bowie. So I mostly ignored him.
At age 18, on the sly, I bought The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Marvelous stuff, of course. But at age 20 I bought probably the best bunch of CDs in my life: David Bowie Sound + Vision.
The packaging was marvelous. For 1989, it contained three great CDs that ran a gamut of his career up to Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) including familiar tracks and alternate takes. It had a video CD with the video for "Ashes to Ashes" saying goodbye to his pre-1980 personas when hardly anyone had a player to do anything with it.
Bowie described himself as "synthetic". Before I closely listened, when I was a teenager he came across as always viewing his own work from a distance. Never fully engaged, but pulling a trick of some kind and watching to see everyone's reactions rather than being in the moment.
What is easy to miss, for all the hairstyles and colors and external trappings, is his voracious curiosity for music. He put a great deal of heart into his work, often getting far further in than trying on genres, but studying and expressing himself from the genre's center.
Over time I bought all his albums up through Never Let Me Down. His recordings at the BBC. For all this intense time of catching up, all his changes and playfulness had the safety of the past. It didn't offend or challenge me in the way it would have had I caught it at the first. The daring stuff struck me as wonderfully funny and clever. I could see things as they were meant and did not have to deal with the contemporary "What is he doing?"
When strapped for cash at various times, I ended up selling a few of his albums I didn't listen to very often (Farewell, Never Let Me Down). I haven't purchased every album he released after 1987. I did like Tin Machine. Yes, really. And Black Tie, White Noise. And I especially liked Outside. And like much of his mid-level fans I had heard whispers about his ailing health in recent years, and was delightfully surprised when The Next Day came out, viewing it in 2013 as a final album emerging after ten years of retirement.
In 2016, with Bowie dead, I now drum my fingers, awaiting delivery of his final album Blackstar. I saw the video for his song "Lazarus" when it was released and knew he was near death. Not only tipped-off by the title of the song, and the prolonged shots on a sick bed, but most especially the black and silver-striped harlequin going into the chest/coffin at the end. This was goodbye.
And three days after the video's release, he was dead.
The news bummed me out, intermittently, for a couple of days. And I still shake my head a few times at the news. I don't associate a wide range of his songs with emotionally laden relationships or memories. But playing random tracks from the 25 albums of his that I still own evokes specific times in my life when listening and getting engrossed in his music was an experience distinctly (this is absurd) mine, even listening a decade or two behind others. His hunger to try things, his love of music and bending of forms all generated an impressive body of work. Yet, it feels like a chill has settled on all of those accomplishments for now. Once Blackstar arrives, his space on my CD shelves will not get much wider.
When thinking of an example of Bowie deploying both a sense of play and a clear drive to get into the center of a song, his cover of "Wild is the Wind" came immediately to mind.
Many of us will take solace in the work he left behind, even though listening to it for a while will be hard because we will sorely miss him.
I got sad writing this. Headed up the stairs. Then I started thinking of "TVC15" and Bowie's performance on Saturday Night Live with Klaus Nomi and started laughing. Had I seen this in 1978, at age 9, I would have wondered what was going on. Seeing it much later, it is so wonderfully fucking funny. Pink poodle with a t.v. screen. Stick around for the second number in the video of David Bowie acting like a puppet for "Boys Keep Swinging". Yes, that is Martin Sheen introducing him.