Just Like That Bluebird: Remembering David Bowie

Eva Griffin reflects on the death of the influential David Bowie, just days after his 69th birthday and release of his last album. It can feel bizarre mourning a man you never knew, as if your sadness is immediately insincere. Those privately grieving David Bowie are unlikely to be among the throngs of people taking to social media today to make sense of the strange loss taking hold. The otherworldly idea of Bowie which he cultivated throughout his career has been shaken by the very human event of death. Though what he represents remains immortal through his lasting influence, the knowledge of his absence leaves an almost indescribable and slightly embarrassing grief for fans of his music. Having vanished from the music world so suddenly after falling ill in 2003 and being welcomed back with such joy in 2013 with the release of The Next Day, his final disappearing act seems unfairly mundane for someone so often imbued with an extra-terrestrial presence.Growing up in a world being changed by the queering power of Bowie’s near transhuman existence is a privilege that won’t be known again. The expectations lauded on pop music were heightened to an unreachable zenith when Bowie emerged from South London in the 1970s. For four decades he permeated our lives with his seemingly endless capability to innovate; to rework music into something fun, charming, provocative, beautiful, edgy, and timeless. His compulsion to push against norms and straddle the line between fantasy and reality wearing catsuits and platforms gave birth to an aggressive androgyny that, while not forever a staple in his wardrobe, remained a cornerstone in his sound.A master of reinvention but forever recognisable, Bowie’s style and lyrics often worked in tandem to avoid concrete interpretation. The thrill of his words lies in their cheeky side-step into oddity. From his Ziggy Stardust persona to his inscrutable final release, the enigma of Bowie cried out for inspection. In his later years, the refusal to give interviews or explain himself in any way only increased the need to understand someone we naively claimed to be from another planet despite his all too human request to be left alone. On his final song, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, Bowie reminds us that though he became our personal freak flag, even a man who makes himself a public symbol is impenetrable: “Saying no but meaning yes, this is all I ever meant, that’s the message that I sent.”While his music was always looking forward to a vast, warped world, he accepted that everything must come to an end. Even his sci-fi opus The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars built a whole LP on the life cycle of both humanity and its space prophet, culminating in a bombastic rock ‘n’ roll suicide. In the last 18 months of his life, Bowie took control of his death in a way few artists can, simultaneously providing comfort for himself and those who loved him, whether near or far. The goodbye note sounds different in light of his death; a final wink at the enduring unknowability of Bowie. The pathos lacing his legacy’s close, while humbling, doesn’t end the wild fantasies he moulded or the impossible personas he crept into. Bowie was the space and stardust he sang of. His last gift to us distant admirers was this final album bearing the moniker that now hints at premonition; Blackstar. With his quiet but shocking passing, the man who fell to earth has left us for the stars, still shining with the oddest glimmer.