The fact is that these two events occupy similar bits of real estate in my soul. Bowie should feel complimented by that, but, then again, so should my Mom.
Now that I think of it, the parallels are striking. Both my mother and David Bowie gave me license to dress up, act out, and express myself. Both had thorough addictions and addictive personalities. Both smoked. Both were distant from me – though for different reasons.
My mother was an artist, and had all the eccentricities and exaggerations that come with that. We had a difficult relationship for most of our years together. (She passed away in 2009, and that deserves its own blog post some time).
Because of this, she was constantly encouraging and discouraging my interests in creative efforts. I think she wanted me to have a more solid footing than she did, so she encouraged me to think about practical jobs. But God bless her, she also could not help herself.
Even as one part of her pushed me to practicality, another side of her indulged and enabled my artistic explorations.
One day at a flea market, Mom got a hold of a working Super 8 movie camera and projector. She let me stay up all night making stop-action movies. They weren’t Pixar, but man, were they fun to make.
Christmas morning when I was twelve, I woke up to find out Mom had figured out a way to get me some musical equipment. Those gifts unlocked a lifetime of creativity and enjoyment. I don;t have any of that equipment anymore, but the pathways that got opened in me are still there. I walk them every day.
David Bowie never bought me anything, of course. He had no idea who I was. But that does not mean he didn’t give me gifts.
Bowie’s style was incendiary. His music and especially his lyrics provoked me and drove the gears of my thinking. His constant reinvention of himself has – for better or worse – had an impact on how I thought about my career. I was a fan of his music, but also of the man. He was a master. A genius.
The death of Bowie was an important, heart-wrenching moment in my life. In many ways, it bookended the death of my mother in 2009. My mother’s death paralyzed me. A year ago, Bowie’s death restored my nerve.
The lesson I took from David Bowie’s death was get busy. Life is short. Time is precious. No one will go back an unlock the genius in your absence. No one else will pick up your pieces and get them out there. It is up to you.
I think, in a way, this was also what my mother was trying to convey to me. Looking back now, perhaps she wasn’t discouraging my art and artistry when she trotted out that square jive about practicality. Perhaps the intent was to give me something to struggle against. If you want to be an artist, a creative, you have to really want it.
The world will try to knock it out of you. What I got from the example of both my mother and from Bowie is that is is the job of the artist to be unafraid.