I wrote an obituary for David Bowie in Vegas Seven last Monday, while the shock of his death was fresh. Truth be told, I’m still dumbfounded by the loss, and I expect I will be for years to come. (I’m not over the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury, either. And I get angry about it every time Queen goes on tour with some has-been or game show contestant in Mercury’s rightful place.)
There are some losses that never seem real because the lives never seemed real, either. I know David Bowie was human; know it all too well this sad, shocking week. But I was never able to imagine being in the same room with him. I shared a roof with him once, but it was the roof of the Thomas & Mack Center, an intimate setting only for college basketball. There were 19,000 other people there, and the half of them who weren’t there only to see Nine Inch Nails were probably thinking the same thing I was: Is that really him? Is he really here? Is David Bowie really a thing, or did we imagine him?
In any case, my Seven obituary is reprinted below. If I’d had the time and the space to do so, I might have expanded on a few things I touch on in passing, in particular Bowie’s unfairly maligned 1980s output (I’ve been listening to Never Let Me Down and the Tin Machine albums all week, and dated production aside, they hold up), and the shabby treatment Bowie received on the Outside tour, in Las Vegas and, I suspect, nationwide. Mosh-pit jackasses threw their beer cups and plastic water bottles at him. You might not have seen it from your perspective on the floor, but I had a clear view of it from my elevated place at stage right and mentioned it in my October 1995 review . (It’s in the old, Patrick Gaffey-run Las Vegas Weekly, and I’ll reprint it here just as soon as I can dig it up.)
In your defense, Las Vegas, Bowie didn’t seem that bothered by the garbage. And it was the 1990s; back then, audiences were more frisky, because rock ‘n’ roll was still around in a way that counted. Believe me, as one of Las Vegas most enduring cheerleaders, I’d rather say that it didn’t happen: I’d love to say that David Bowie came to town and everyone was pie-eyed and reverent and kept their fucking beer cups to themselves. But it did happen. I saw it. I’m just not sure I actually saw Bowie himself, feel me?
(Funny how trolling travels. When I snagged the link for the video below—Bowie’s 1993 cover of Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” done in the style of Pin-Ups—I made the mistake of reading through the comments. Don’t do it. It’s like watching the man get pelted with trash all over again.)
David Bowie is gone. He left Earth on January 10, after some 50 years of making music, film and art for a world that embraced him even when it didn’t quite understand him. His discography is, on the whole, unmatched in its quality—yes, even when you factor in Tin Machine and Never Let Me Down. And today, like many of you, I’m listening to that music. There is no better way to pay homage to David Bowie than to listen to his records.
Bowie was more than a supernaturally gifted songwriter and musician. He was, as my girlfriend said this morning, “a beacon for freaks.” So many of our friends felt validated by him; no matter what your struggle was, Bowie had a soundtrack for it. As we read our way through our Facebook feeds, we realized that every single person we knew—the goths, the jocks, the poets, the rockers, the ravers—every one of them had been drawn to Bowie at an early age, and every one of them knew a different man, from Goblin King to Thin White Duke to Ziggy Stardust.
I saw Bowie perform only once. It was October 19, 1995, at the Thomas & Mack—the Outside tour, which he conducted in partnership with Nine Inch Nails. The two bands actually shared the stage for five songs, including Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” and Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” The rest of Bowie’s set was heavy with songs relating to death, either directly (“Look Back in Anger,” “A Small Plot of Land”) or obliquely (“Andy Warhol,” “Under Pressure”).
And yet, I have rarely seen a performer with more life in him, more commitment to the moment at hand. Some assholes in the audience threw their water bottles at Bowie, but he didn’t let it faze him. He just danced around the projectiles and unwrapped gift after gift: “Breaking Glass,” “I’m Deranged,” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” And at the end of his set, at the end of a splendid version of “Teenage Wildlife,” he mimed stabbing himself in the gut and fell over, “dead.” That night, 20-plus years ago, Bowie bluntly told us that he would have to go someday, and he predicted the way he would go out: singing.
Today, every Bowie song is a sacred thing. Yes, even the pop stuff he made in the 1980s and early 1990s, the music that Pitchfork would like to pretend doesn’t exist. I can hear Bowie’s alpha and omega in every single note. He was always, always telling us that this was too good to last, and always exhorting us to live fully in the moment: This is our last dance/this is our last dance/this is ourselves. I couldn’t state David Bowie’s central message more clearly than that. Live your life as whoever you want to be. Enjoy every second doing it. And, when you can, throw Aladdin Sane or Black Tie White Noise on the stereo, and remember the man who souled the world.