Bowie: A Personal Remembrance

The other day, a former student of mine sent a message to me over Facebook:

“Have you heard David Bowie’s latest album?”

“No, I’ve not had the chance.”

“’Lazarus’ is beautiful!”

When she was a student, the two of us bonded over a mutual love of two things: Theatre and David Bowie. Two things that, in my mind, were so similar. Two things that were so connected. After we finished chatting, I  went to YouTube and looked up David Bowie’s Blackstar album. I remember as I was listening to “Lazarus” I was struck by this line: 

“Look up here. I’m in heaven.”

Such a simple line, yet, with his voice, so packed emotion– not cloying, silly emotion, but a warm, reassuring emotion.

“Lazarus” is more than beautiful. Beyond beautiful. David Bowie’s passing has now made these lyrics an emotional roller coaster for me. As I write this article, I’m sitting in my classroom during my prep period, listening to this song for about the twelfth time today. I feel devastated. I feel empty. I feel like crying. A current student of mine has walked in to speak to me and found me a wet, sobbing mess. I now feel a little foolish about caring so much about a rock star’s passing and behaving like a silly teenage girl.

Bowie came to me between my Junior and Senior year of high school. The Let’s Dance album was everything that a rural kid from East Central Indiana who was angrily dissatisfied with the mediocrity of Journey and Foreigner could hope for. I immersed myself in that album that summer. I played it so often that it became warped and unintelligible by the fall. I had listened to Bowie before. One of the local radio stations played Space Oddity a few times and I remember watching this slim, polite, young Englishman sing a duet with Bing Crosby on a Christmas special. This album was different. I was fascinated by the songs, “Let’s Dance!” and “China Girl” in particular.

To me, David Bowie represented everything that was English. He was sleek and stylish, a classic gentleman who I admired for his talent and his suavity. I always find it a little odd that Bowie was called a chameleon. Sure, he adapted, but he didn’t just adapt, he completely transformed. He was the Thin White Duke and Aladdin Sane and Screaming Lord Byron. He wasn’t a chameleon in my mind; he was a phoenix. He rose from the ashes of his previous incarnation and became a new entity. He was, in a sense, the rock-and-roll J. Alfred Prufrock, putting on the face to meet the faces that he was to meet.

My obsession with Bowie reached its zenith on June 12, 1990 when my wife and some friends of ours attended the Sound + Vision tour as it made a stop at Deer Creek (now Klipsch) Music Center outside of Noblesville, Indiana. The set was simple, and used a giant, 80-foot-tall scrim on which a projected video of Bowie could interact with Bowie on stage. Watching and listening to Bowie live on stage was to me, (even now at age 51) like what I would imagine watching and listening to Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount would have been like. I have never been to a concert since that time. There really has been no need to go to one since.

Now, I sit here writing an article about a man whose effect on me can never truly be encapsulated except in this regard. Even in his death, Bowie is a phoenix, rising above his ashes and reinventing himself for one final time.  He is truly “Lazarus.”


Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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