After He left: excavating the crater that David Bowie’s departure has left on the world

The last week has been a strange one.

There has a palpable shift world wide, in the wake of the death of our Star Man, our Space Boy, Mr. Stardust and Goblin King. Even writing these words carries a certain charge and air… as if simply writing out what always was to be… that this seemingly ephemeral man left early to go back whence he came – the starry dynamo that had Kerouac and Ginsberg in gleeful hysteria – because it was David Bowie’s fixation, his obsession, his theme. He was no ordinary human.

There is this sense, as there always has been around him, that he was an alien dressed like one of us. To write this about anyone else would seem contrived or silly. But when it comes to Bowie, whether or not you were or are still a fan, there are feelings and imagery he contained, and it’s one we’ll not know again.

David Bowie tribute

We’re still reeling from the death of David Bowie – as is the entire world – and it’s becoming more and more apparent that there are few people on Earth that have had, or will have, the unsurpassable, wide-reaching impact that he had.

While there is all the talk of every thing he did up until his dying day, what I’ve found affecting is the sheer impact his death has had now he is gone. Every time, since news of his death, that I open my Spotify, the right hand display says “so and so, listened to Bowie” – and it’s still happening. People are on my Facebook are still remarking on the loss, and the way it has left them reeling.Very few knew he was ill and the suddenness of his departing is a huge part of why his death has rocked us all like a comet. Besides the fact that I think many people believed he would live to some eerie old age; still ephemeral, impossible, beautiful, strange.

My own story of Bowie began with – as it did for most eighties babies – Labyrinth, and David’s striking looks and performance. All sexual omniscience, dizzying glass spheres and stairs cases, trailing cloaks and owl wings – nightmarish, fantastical imagery that only offsets who he was and the world he seemed to inhabit. And like any kid, I’d hear Space Oddity and Changes on the radio, knew that voice that was incomparable, and only his. No replica is fathomable. But my first true moment of recognizing the enduring power of his music, was at a trendy indie club at age twenty, with the early onset Hipsters, dancing at some ungodly hour on the sticky Spectrum-club floors, and Rebel, Rebel came on. A song that grabs your legs and gets them rattling around before you know what in hell is happening… I looked up at the crowd of cool kids, and the entire house was going off. There had been Beck, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Nirvana… kids were having a fine time. But Bowie? Everyone lost their minds.

All these years later, and his provocative lyrics and story of the art of rebellion was still hip, still evocative, still relevant.

It was some years still again before I really started exploring his catalogue. New Killer Star came out in 2003, the year I graduated high school, but wasn’t taken home by me until 2006 or 2007. I vividly recall sitting down to watch the Reality Live DVD, curious and keen, and over the course of watching it, having my emotions and mind stretched in every which direction. And underneath it all, the dreamy but lucid impression of Bowie as exactly who he professed to be… not from here, not at all, not truly earth-bound, and how he used that album in particular to deal with fame and its warping mirror effect on your life and who you appear to be… or don’t appear to be. It struck me as one of the most clever releases to deal with that subject matter, and something he did with great intelligence, wit and flair without ever coming across as embittered or blithely satirical. He was writing about his experience of the media. How even with all his personas, the media embellished him and his life with more. Half-truths and opaque lies, or, in his own words…

See my life in a comic
Like the way they did the Bible
With the bubbles and action
The little details in colour

All the while, interstellar melodies rile in the background. As if to exclaim, “it doesn’t matter anyway” – or, as he repeats as the song fades out “I got a better way.” He knew where he was aimed for.

As I went about my business running errands the day after the tragic news, every store I walked into in Newtown was playing his music and it loaned a certain but persistent sadness to the day. His absence and the knowledge of it is like a scar. It will heal and grow over as time goes on, but it will never be forgotten, it can’t be tattooed over, and his legacy and individuality and all he stood for cannot be replaced. Therein is the tragedy of the icon, like Marilyn, Elvis, Sinatra, Lennon, Bowie…it’s hard to imagine there is going to be anyone else who can do what they did just like them. And so when they go, it is not just a loss for music, but for us as humans. Each of those mentioned went out and did their Thing in their own way, even as a lot of their image and life was torn to shreds by the press. They gave us so much while they were on this planet, and the idea of them not being to still do that is what makes their loss so heart rending and haunting.

I think, besides his knack for a hit, Bowie taught us that being yourself is everything, that living your truth and your style is everything, that eventually the right people will find you and get you and appreciate you and that the misfits, the iconoclasts, the rebels, the weirdos have a place and a message, and that in itself is a power that cannot die out. If he had given up and given in all those years ago, we wouldn’t have the abundance of listening pleasure that we do now.

Rest in peace, Space Boy.


One year on, hear the Happy team discuss how the world has continued to celebrate Bowie’s death: