It’s been just over a full day since the world lost David Bowie. I guess the same amount of time has passed since I lost him too. The news is awash with folks weighing in about their favorite Bowie hits and stories of when they met, stories about what a normal guy he was. I’m not trying to judge them but it’s hard to take when I never met him but needed him. I never had a single favorite but have Bowie histories within my own personal history. I never thought that anything he ever showed me wasn’t normal.
Like so many other outcast kids discovering him was an awakening. Here was a person (probably a person…) who didn’t even try to fit in but pushed his pendulum far in the opposite direction. So many times when facing a struggle I could lose myself in his lyrics, costumes, music, or movies and emerge with not just an answer but always the right answer.
Here are some of the lessons he taught me.
Love the person, not their look.
- One of my major exes exploded at me once after asking about my exes. He was upset they weren’t similar, that they were so all over the map. He was further angered seeing their pictures. They looked like the rainbow they were. Lots of colors, lots of different styles, different talents, different ages, varying faces on a traditional spectrum of beauty. I don’t know if he was looking to feel better about himself, looking to feel like the one thing I really wanted in comparison to “the other guy” or what but I’ve since found out that Bowie had a similar approach to love. Man or woman, black or white, young or old didn’t seem to come into play. If they were fascinating and compelling they could be loved by him. It’s what’s inside you that I’m interested in, the other stuff is like the buttons on your jacket – I might like it or not but ultimately, it’s not so very important.
Let your outsides reflect your insides.
- This may seem the opposite of what I just said but hear me out.
I can’t remember the first time I saw Bowie though I suspect it was watching Labyrinth like a lot of kids from the 80’s. All I know is that once I saw him I seemed to see him in a lot of places. In a lot of forms of dress. It seemed that opposed to what kids in my elementary school were telling me you didn’t have to be one kind of person or look like one kind of person. I stopped caring about trying to be one thing and embraced clothing for what it was – a costume.
If I’m really into some old school down and dirty punk stuff my clothes will let you know it. If I’m going through a domestic and feminine phase you’ll be able to tell that too. I’ve been told I have a face that can’t lie. My wardrobe does the same thing. It may look insane of casual but it’s a carefully considered and curated construction I can treat as a tiny art form for the day.
- If you need to quit the impending success of your pop career to study mime for a year do it. Only you know what’s best for you and how to properly invest in yourself. Another tragic loss came recently when Lemmy departed us too soon. He said “I don’t do regrets. Regrets are pointless. It’s too late for regrets. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You’ve lived your life. No point wishing you could change it.”
My only regrets are from missing out on big opportunities because I was trying to take care of others by limiting myself. A lot of
peopleguys from my past were really into catching me then trying to categorize me, tame me, and ultimately change me. It wasn’t until I stopped allowing that to happen I found the person I really love. It’s still a lot to ask of someone to be myself and I’m figuring out how to be reasonable and to do me without being selfish. Encouraging the people you love with make them better and make you happier because of it. With work, with growth, with love. Always be honest.
Find the right collaborators.
- I’m not an especially strong team player. I think being a weird kid and finding the safety in alone caused me to find a little too much comfort there. I’m an extrovert but at the end of each day I found peace and safety in myself. I almost always knew what to expect there. As an adult I’ve learned that we have to work together to create the truly great stuff but it can still be hard for me to identify the proper collaborators I need for various projects. Once identified it’s even harder to reach out and ask for help.
The right people with strengthen your work, adding dimension and depth. The wrong people will try to get you to sprinkle your magic pixie dust all over turds. Wading these waters is hard but I look to the collaborations Bowie made to try and understand what kind of collaborator I may be dealing with. Is this person a Pop or a Visconti? An Eno or a Ronson? Each serves a different purpose for both parties, each is integral for different reasons. I’m trying to stay aware. Trying to be more open to the collaborators who appear before me.
We all feel lonely.
- Just because you have fabulous collaborators, love, friends, family and kindness in your world does not mean you won’t go through times of isolation. To feel lonely is to to be forced to consider yourself. Many try and avoid this, experiencing discomfort or facing truths they’d rather not face. Instead, I embrace it, albeit awkwardly. Chances are if the universe has left me alone it’s because I need to do some thinking. I’ll use this time to dig deep and get honest with myself. To create a little art or reach out to someone who’s drifted a bit too far away. Loneliness is a nice barometer. Lyrics like Bowie’s make it delicious.
Your flaws are beautiful.
- This is a lesson punk rock also taught me. Embrace your flaws – they’re human glitter. Instead of trying to adapt his look to look to be more like everyone else Bowie instead took them to the extreme. By embracing them he changed the world. Now, I’m not claiming this will happen for all of us but I do know that we’ll all be a happier lot if we accept how gorgeous we all are.
- Change before they’re ready. Add mime to a rock show. Quit if you have to. Experiment with what you love. Stay strange and honest about it. You know what you’re doing. Your world will either get that or catch up with you if they love you. If they don’t they’ll move on and you’ll be better off without them.
Flash needs substance (and vice versa).
- Too far in the direction of flash and you wind up with a Glass Spider Tour on your hands. To far in the direction of substance and you’re smack dab in the middle of Tin Machine. The truth is that if you’re doing great shit and it’s not packaged correctly folks may not take notice. That’s fine unless you want to change the world. Letting people see your ideas means they can copy you, adapt you and continue your good work. So dress it up and make it fun to interact with and too tempting not to replicate somehow. On the other hand if you’re too worried about the packaging and you don’t spend time creating quality work you may get attention but won’t create an impact worth creating.
Everybody wants to be Ziggy but if we were all Ziggy he’d be less special. With any luck you’ll hit it out of the park somewhere into Diamond Dogs territory. There can be no excess of Diamond Dogs.
When you start to feel crazy take care of it.
- A lot of us weirdos can feel crazy from time to time. (Define crazy as you will.) Some think it makes us better artists, some think it makes us annoying nuisances. Regardless, when you feel your dark thoughts bubbling to the surface take care of it. I recently finished Duff McKagan’s newest book and in it he talks about his own battle with depression saying that movement is the enemy of dark thoughts for him. I agree. Going for a long walk with my dog is a good start for redirecting my rudder. For Bowie addressing his fear of insanity through song writing helped. No matter how you deal with your darkness don’t allow yourself to soak in it. You deserve better.
Always look to future.
- Being great can happen to almost anyone. Staying great takes work and planning. To stay relevant you need to keep working, not just resting on that cool thing you did. Challenge yourself by considering your future and cluing into the fact that we can all continue to learn and hopefully grow as artists, creators and most importantly – as humans.
There’s so much more than this that he gave me. But I’m keeping those for myself. I’m going to be sad for a very long time about this. I might talk about it, I might not. I’ve lost my original collaborator in his death. My imaginary friend. My first and longest lasting crush. My hero. The savior and advocate of all the weirdos. And the rock star who had the most seemingly effortless transition between sex, silliness, self deprecation, bad ass rock, and thoughtfulness. I have other people I look up to but I wanted to have Bowie grow old and be a shining example of all that could be accomplished as a 70 year old, 80 year old, 90 year old and beyond… (Did I think he would ever die?)
I will take these lesson into my future and be okay. So will you.