David Bowie

Ashes to Ashes

By Kersley Fitzgerald

David Bowie died yesterday after an unusually quiet 18-month battle with cancer. His loss has been felt all over social media and news outlets. Entire articles have been dedicated to celebrity tweets (and articles correcting those tweets' attribution). The tributes are all very sweet. They talk about his artistic originality, how he didn't let any convention (fashion, musical, sexual...) stand in his way. About how he'll live forever.

On Friday, Bowie's 69th birthday, his final album, Blackstar was released. We now understand it was his goodbye letter. One poignant song, "Lazarus," would have been hard evidence of his illness had his death not followed so quickly after its release. "Look up here, I'm in heaven..." The video shows him gaunt (well, gaunter than usual for the Thin White Duke) and trembling in an austere hospital bed, his eyes wrapped in bandages and replaced with buttons. "Look up here, man, I'm in danger; I've got nothing left to lose..." Nearer the end, he sits at a desk and writes frantically, as if trying to leave behind all he can before he has to go. "Oh, I'll be free; Just like that bluebird; Oh, I'll be free; Ain't that just like me." He then backs into a wardrobe and closes the door. The man who was once a master at reinventing his appearance is now shut away forever.

And not free.

Ugh, I don't want to Jesus Juke David Bowie's death. I'm one of the few on staff who legitimately grew up with his music. My husband's nickname is "Major Tom." "Space Oddity" came out the year before I was born. Ziggy Stardust appeared when I was 2. The movie Labyrinth was released when I was 16. The bass line to "Under Pressure" will always be in my chest (and Vanilla Ice can just...go away).

This morning I discovered Neil Gaiman's "The Return of the Thin White Duke," a fan-fic story about Bowie's origins. It would be nice to think he really was a Starman from another dimension and, like Elvis, just went home.

That's not the way it works, though. Wishful fans imagine that he's returned to the stars — even if only symbolically. Christians of a certain age mourn the death of so much talent while remembering the earlier life that paved the way for acceptance of homosexuality (even if he later recanted) and transgenderism. Neither side can have it both ways. That's part of the tension of being made in God's image and being fallen. We are all capable of beauty and art and, to a degree, transcendence, and we are all in need of a savior.

The German musician Peter Schilling made a follow-up song to "Space Oddity" called "Major Tom (I'm Coming Home)." The last verse reads:
Far beneath the ship, the world is mourning
They don't realize, he's alive.
No one understands, but Major Tom sees
Now the light commands, this is my home.
I'm coming home.
Many take the words to mean Major Tom dies. I always thought it meant he really was coming home to his wife. When it comes to real life, however, the words of the Bible aren't up for interpretation. We can celebrate the music, his hard-won sobriety, and his long-time relationship with Iman while mourning the fact that his creativity will forever be limited to this life. We are all fallen. Where will we go home to?

TagsCurrent-Issues  | Eternity-Forever  | Reviews-Critiques

comments powered by Disqus
Published 1-11-16