I woke up this morning to a palpable, startling sense of loss. I cried while walking the dog, and didn’t know why. It wasn’t till I got to work that I heard David Bowie was dead.
The most likely explanation for my sourceless melancholy was my own weird neurochemistry, some stress over family trouble, some feelings of disorientation and overwhelmedness at my new job in a new city with new people. But there are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, and I like to think that it was, actually, a disturbance in the force that I was feeling, some aftershock from Bowie’s passing.
I’m thinking about his new album, which I haven’t yet finished, and wondering what kind of man it must take to consciously create an entire album, as he seems to have done, as a parting gesture to the world. The only other person I know to have done that is Warren Zevon (who I know and love mainly via association with Sal, who introduced me to WZ’s shabby, oddball brand of warm-hearted noir), who composed The Wind while he, too, was knowingly dying of cancer. What an elegant and generous way to die.
I only knew Bowie in the limited way we know a man through his works. Some people would say that we never really know anybody, but only the faces they choose to show us. Bowie was master of the persona, the crafted mask. But masks conceal as well as reveal; and we can know someone truly without knowing him completely. When we know something true about a person, no matter how small, we know that person in an essential way. It is as if their whole existential DNA is contained in each gesture.
David Bowie gave a lot of pieces of himself to be known and loved. As C. S. Lewis said of Mervyn Peake, Bowie’s works constitute “actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.”
So I am praying that he find a place of refreshment, light, and peace, in a place much warmer than he has sometimes seemed to expect, and much weirder than even he could dream.