More than Stardust

It would be hard to know me for more than a few days before figuring out I love David Bowie – if it even took that long. A glance at my room would show two framed pictures on the wall, and another painting of Jareth placed over my desk. A Jareth figurine stands on the top shelf of my book case. My denim jacket has a Ziggy Stardust pin. My phone lock screen features one of my favorite images of Bowie, and my phone wallpaper is a graphic featuring his lyrics, ‘We could be heroes just for one day.’ It’s not obsession, although I can see why it might look that way – but it is homage, because yes, I love David Bowie. I have for a very long time. But also, I owe a lot of myself to him.

David Bowie

The first time I recall hearing any of his music, I was in my early teens. I was watching A Knight’s Tale for the first time, and his song ‘Golden Years’ played during the dance scene. I only knew it was Bowie because I looked it up. It wasn’t until a few years later that Bowie re-entered my life, but he did it at just the right time. I don’t even remember exactly how it happened. It was bit by bit that I grew to love him; a song here, a movie there, an interview over here.

I was at a time in my teens where I wasn’t sure who I was – was I shy and quiet? Was I outgoing and extroverted? What were my goals? Did I want to write, to paint, to train horses, to do something else entirely? I was messing around with my best friend at the time, in a toxic relationship. Was that where I wanted to go? Was I going to become someone strong and confident who could say no and make the right decisions, or was I going to sink into the mire of what was easy? Was I going to continue being an angry, hot-tempered, sharp-tongued person, or was I going to be the gentle, kind, wise, loving person I idealized? It was a time for making decisions – every decision possible, all at once; or so it seemed.

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I’ve always gone through phases. That hasn’t changed, even though I’ve become steady and I know who I am as much as anyone in their twenties can – things about me can change from year to year. One year my style is wildly different from the previous year. One year, my favorite genre is fantasy and the next year it’s non-fiction history. Who I want to be changes year to year, too. These drastic swings have always been a part of my life, even as a child, but I always felt they were supposed to stop at some point. One day I was supposed to figure out exactly who I was and stay that way forever.

Until, that is, I discovered David Bowie. Without realizing it, he began to teach me in ways I didn’t fully realize until after his death two years ago. Today would have been David Bowie’s 72nd birthday. He’ll never know what he did for me, but it was a lot.

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He helped me realize that it was okay to have phases. It was okay to change. He taught me that not every phase is good, and sometimes who you are for a season is someone who you regret. Granted, I never went through a neo-nazi phase full of sugar and cocaine, but I had my moments. Not all of his phases were popular with people, either, and that was okay. He expressed himself, whoever he happened to be at the time, and he did it without apology. He embraced regrets and learned from them. He shifted from one facet of himself to another with unapologetic ease and gentle good humor. For someone as flamboyant and dramatic as he seemed, he was a quiet, sensitive person. People don’t usually think of those two traits existing simultaneously.

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He taught me that I had to choose, yes. I had to choose who I wanted to be, but I didn’t need to stay that way. I could change. He also taught me that it was okay to seem like a contradiction. I could be thoughtful and quiet and still be dramatic and outgoing when I wanted to be. I could be strong without being angry. I could embrace the phases I went through, because as long as I knew who I was in my core, who my center being was, I could express it any way I wanted. He taught me that change doesn’t mean you’re fickle, that allowing yourself to change your mind and find new outlooks was a unique strength in itself. He had mismatched eyes, strange teeth. His voice wasn’t typical; sometimes it wasn’t even particularly good. He wasn’t perfect – but he was fully, vibrantly himself.

He would say things that resonated with me in a way nothing else did. “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.”

“I had to resign myself, many years ago, that I’m not too articulate when it comes to explaining how I feel about things. But my music does it for me, it really does.”

“I feel confident imposing change on myself. It’s a lot more fun progressing than looking back.”

“I feel confident imposing change on myself. It’s a lot more fun progressing than looking back.”

He would talk about how people would place their own versions of who David Bowie was onto him, and how he had to learn to live with that, to accept that who he was needed to remain free of those projections. My default setting is to please people, and for a long time I let people place their projections onto me, and tried my hardest to be that. Until, that is, I realized that it was okay to please people – as long as I was wholly myself, and didn’t sacrifice pieces of my being in order to feed lies.

There’s a story about David Bowie, right after Labyrinth aired.

‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.

‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.

‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?

‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’

‘And so I did.

‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.

‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.

‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.

‘’Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.

‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.

‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.

‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’

I love every song on the Labyrinth soundtrack. I love the classic songs, like ‘Heroes’ and ‘Space Oddity.’ But my favorite song of his remains the still popular but slightly lesser-known ‘Starman.’ Without any discernible reason, that song reminds me of myself. It feels like home. It feels like the place in my soul that wants to be a secret, and also absolutely known.

My mom and I joked once, a handful of months ago, that David Bowie was keeping an eye on me from the stars. Later that day, I was in a book store, studying the beautiful artwork in a book of Labyrinth tribute art. As I studied my favorite painting – the one on the cover, the process of which was shown at the end of the book – what song should start playing through the store speakers but ‘Starman.’

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2 thoughts on “More than Stardust”

  1. Although I saw Labyrinth once years ago, it went right over my head and I didn’t like it. So I really only know Bowie from his cameo in the Wedding Singer. But I’ve actually always been intrigued. I need to try watching Labyrinth again now that I’m old enough to process it better.

    Like

  2. He sounds a lot like you. :)

    Also in your Instagram bio right now it says: “Defense Against the Dark (Art)s teacher” AND THAT MADE MY DAY. :D ;D ;D

    Like

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