“Wow, that’s a big one.”
Those were the only words I could come up with Sunday night after my husband told me that David Bowie had died.
Like most people, he found out about it on social media, where news spreads swiftly and with much reaction. Not surprisingly, reaction was collectively heartbroken.
I was fairly dumbstruck and carried that into the next day. It wasn’t that I had every David Bowie record in my collection or closely followed the variety of work he’d done. But who didn’t sing along to “Space Oddity” or “Rebel Rebel” or “Let’s Dance” when it came on the radio? Who didn’t delight in seeing him launch that giant jump in the music video with Mick Jagger for “Dancing in the Street”?
And even as a casual fan of his music, I was awed by his breadth as a performance artist. You had to have a large piece of your insides missing if you were young in the 1970s and ’80s and couldn’t at the very least appreciate that mastery.
It’s frustrating that the word “iconic” gets tossed around so much these days to the point that it’s drained of its value. So much so that there’s really no apt way left to describe someone like David Bowie.
No doubt part of my reaction to Bowie’s death came from sheer shock – he and his family did a remarkable job in this age of open-book celebrity lives of keeping his 18-month battle a secret. The news came out of nowhere.
But that particularly uncomfortable feeling of melancholy about Bowie’s death went deeper – it came from a place that knew the world had suddenly turned a tragic generational corner. And that there’s no doubling back.
Yes, at 69, Bowie certainly died young. And he isn’t the first rock star to go. But if he could be dead, it means we’ve reached an era where it’s time to prepare ourselves for more of the same from his peer group of similarly seminal rock artists.
We don’t need to name names to realize the number of aging classic-rock superstars is high. The potential losses are almost unimaginable.
And Bowie was a big one.
Fans can relive their youths attending concerts by plenty of rock bands and artists who still are touring. But anyone who’s done so knows it’s a different feeling than it was seeing them in their – and our own – youthful heydays. There’s an unspoken “last chance” kind of aura floating through those shows, a wistfulness behind the air-guitar mimicry and arm waving going on in the crowds.
We tell ourselves it’s because our favorite bands might decide to retire or finally break up for good. We can’t bear to admit that we also feel their mortality creeping up – and, let’s face it, our own.
As immortal as the music itself might remain, the people who made it simply are not. No one gets out of this alive, and it’s a sobering, face-slapping reality when you’re hit by such jarring news. When you’re forced to – yes – turn and face the strange changes.
Bowie is gone. Oh, look out, you rock ’n’ rollers.