By Joel Hess –
So another Rock ‘n’ Roll icon, if there ever was one, has died. David Bowie. He was more than a Rock ‘n’ Roll superstar. He was bigger than that. He was an entertainer on a Wagnerian scale. Even his name was the product of his desire to create and entertain. His real name was David Jones, but one of the Monkees enjoyed that moniker, so he stole the great American “Bowie” name. Voila! Everything he did was a projected image. He wasn’t just a songwriter or performer. A sort of white man’s “Prince.” Every public appearance seemed unnatural and thoughtfully constructed. Lady Gaga is a derivative of a derivative. But aren’t we all.
Great. I loved his music. And of course his personality and appearance immediately drew even the most boring of us to him. Like, yet unlike, Isaiah’s man of sorrows. He even sported a permanently dilated pupil that played perfectly into his alien persona.
But what do we do with him now? He’s dead. What did I gain from his pain staking work? Did he make the world a better place? Did he love his neighbor as himself? Did his art permanently change anything, good or bad?
Bowie himself said that “Hitler was the first pop artist.” Why not? The harbinger of the new age, the postmodern age. Ah, perfect Bowie, sort of a comrade in arms with Warhol. One might say he sailed farther than Warhol in overall output.
But ultimately, what do we have? Some cute songs. Something to fill our bored lives for 4 minutes a pop?
I don’t know if I can say that any of Bowie’s songs gave any answers. He was no Bono, thank God. He did not preach. Like Dylan he transcended politics or agendas. He simply portrayed the human condition. No, of course he never talked of the pervasiveness of sin or even good and evil. He just was. Sad for him I suppose. He himself was a work of art.
Though Ziggy Stardust died early in his career, the invented Rock God was the essence of Bowie. A man who had everything and nothing, lost and drifting in the manure of humanity, though not human: an alien. Alienated as all humanity is, really. Are we all not born aliens of ourselves?
My favorite rock ‘n’ roll acts often do just that. Of course if I had no compass, if I did not see in color the figures that cast shadows in our cave, I would be lost all the same. Major Tom. And quite frankly, the beauty of Bowie would not be as pronounced to my clouded eyes. The light illumines the darkness.
Yet, I know that the fairy tale is real. There is a real hero and more than that, a fantastic conclusion to this drama of life.
David Bowie, ecce homo. Behold the man. Just a man. Man adrift in space. Whether he wanted to or not, Bowie’s songs betray an absence that allows me to hear Pilate declare the famous phrase all the more boldly, yet pointing to another Alien who came to the alienated: Jesus Christ.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?