I was up all night last night when I discovered David Bowie had died. My entire Twitter feed turned into a wake until dawn. 100% of the tweets, except for the promoted tweets about the movie The Martian (eerie coincidence) having won a Golden Globe award. Spiders from Mars indeed.
I’ve talked about Bowie a lot, and written about him a little. Most recently the essay I had in QUEERS DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION I talk about how as a misfit 11-year-old I found a role model in Bowie not only for daring to declare himself bisexual, but in the embrace of science fiction analogies to define himself “Other.” He created a persona that was a space alien. Later he created other personas…some of which were space aliens pretending to, or learning to be, humans. Just knowing he existed was a spark of encouragement that growing up a sci-loving nerd with gender conformity issues was going to turn out OKAY.
At the time I didn’t grasp that his true role as my guardian angel had a third component, that of creative person and artist itself. Everything he did invited analysis, deconstruction, and questioning. He showed you the seams, the things being mashed up, and it didn’t detract from the amazing final product at all, whether that was an album or a video or a painting or a conceptual stage play. He was the avatar of creative force itself. And he unabashedly represented that conformity was not art’s job.
Guardian angel is not really the right word but I’m at a loss to find the right ones. Patron saint isn’t quite right either. Bodhisattva? Not a God but a luminous spirit in human form who walked among us but who one could always look up to, like a navigational star, to be reminded that creativity and art are a calling unto themselves and that guarding one’s creative heart is a spiritual duty.
Most recently I even used him as muse: the fragile shy persona Bowie fashioned in the mid-1980s, the period of Screaming Lord Byron and his acting turn as partner-in-crime vampire to Catherine Deneuve in THE HUNGER, that was the basis for James, the hero in my BDSM romance series Struck by Lightning. It wasn’t Bowie, per se, it was a facet of the thousand faces of the divinity of art that had its avatar in Bowie. That it was so complex was Bowie through and through. Slow Surrender, the first book in that series, won the RT Reviewers Choice Award and the Magnolia Award. A sure sign that following that star through the night sky led in the right direction.
That star has fallen now, though, hasn’t it? I feel a sense of loss so deep and profound I hardly know what to make of it. That my entire tribe of writers, actors, musicians, and random people on Twitter spent the entire night eulogizing him seems to indicate I’m not the only one being hit so deeply. I thought Leonard Nimoy, another childhood role model, left a hole when he passed. That was only a hole in my heart though. Bowie’s loss leaves a vacuum in my psyche where I didn’t even realize he was, he’d been there so long, a constant presence, underpinning so much of my understanding of self and what it is to be a creative person.
Now I have to fill that vacuum on my own, I suppose, by making art. Which, fortunately, is what I do. It’s frightening to do it without that star as a guide. The thing is, of course, Bowie’s art is all around us. The canon is closed now and we can experience it forever at our leisure. (Thank goodness I listened to the Blackstar album before the news.) But it’s different now that all we have is the Bible, when God is dead and the angel is gone. I do supposed it means it’s up to us to find the spirit within. Bowie made nonconformity for the sake of art into an artform itself. Now it’s up to us to carry that torch and make the art.