I have Jim Henson to thank for introducing me to David Bowie. I was five or six when the film Labyrinth came out, a dark and whacky tale of a baby brother kidnapped by goblins, and his sister's quest to retrieve him. Bowie was one of the few non-muppet actors starring in the film, though he was no less bizarre in his role as Jareth, the goblin king. He wore leggings and tall, high-heeled boots, ruffly white shirts with leather vests, and a mullet-slash-Tina-Turner wig that put every single 80s hair band to shame. What's more, he wore eye makeup—A LOT of it—and yet I didn't find this peculiar at the time, despite never seeing that amount of eyeliner and silver shadow on a man before. He completely mesmerized my siblings and me, especially during the scenes when he sang and danced. Of course I didn't understand the tongue-in-cheek effect of it all—that here was the goblin king, yes, but it was really Bowie just being Bowie, doing what he always did best: transform and perform. Sometime after that, I learned that the goblin king was the same person singing "Ch-ch-ch-changes" on my parents' stereo. Given my age and the way the world was so compartmentalized to me at the time, it was hard to process at first. Harder still was understanding how the figure on the cover of Hunky Dorky was the same person as Ziggy Stardust. And Aladdin Sane. And that hauntingly blank face on Space Oddity. I'd study all our vinyl album covers, baffled by the absurdity of it all.
I liked David Bowie's music and had my songs that I sang along to, but I was never fully consumed by it, memorizing lyrics and track lists the same way I did with the Beatles. I didn't have an aching crush on him, as I did with John Lennon and The Who's Roger Daltrey. With Bowie, I was fascinated by his mystery, his enigma, his mutability and talent for shapeshifting into various personas. He could be so many things—he could be anything! And he could be anything to anyone. That meant we could all have our own favorite versions and interpretations of Bowie, our own personal ways he informed and influenced our understanding of music and art, and pop culture, and just being different. Of course I never understood that in my solipsistic youth. Back then, it was just David Bowie and me, his sole fan (and ok, my father too, who liked him enough to own all of his albums. See what I mean about the egoism of youth?).
I remember when David Bowie came to town during his Sound + Vision tour, and my horrified reaction to my father's choice to overlook me, the obvious candidate, and instead bring my mom as his date. "He's taking her? HER?" I was one pissed off nine-year old, and held onto that grudge even after they came back with a too-big t-shirt for me to someday wear. In my naive head, there was no point of a David Bowie show if I wasn't there to see it.
Even though I'm older and understand so much more about the world and how I'm really just a speck in all of this, I still feel a certain foolish territoriality over David Bowie. When I heard the news of his death earlier this week, I didn't care about how others were affected by it. Hearing his music being played everywhere angered me, I had no patience personal reminisces that weren't mine or my family's—I didn't want to hear it. I could only wallow in my own thoughts, as I sunk into a deeper funk. But this time, my thoughts on Bowie were mostly for my Dad. My father who reminded me of David Bowie in so many ways, both consciously and unconsciously, from his Britishness, his slim physique and his blond hair, to the photos we had of him during the glam-rock 70s in all-out-Bowie-inspired looks (even one of his dressed as Ziggy Stardust for Halloween). Adulthood and perspective eventually let me see that he was the real Bowie fan of the family (he was the one in our house who owned all the albums, after all). He was the one who told me strange Bowie facts like that time he sold shares of himself—as in, you could buy stock in David Bowie!—instead of taking royalties, and he was the one who indulged a nine-year old's shared obsession with a rockstar by buying her a concert t-shirt, which I still own. And he was a fan in ways I'll never know.
Nearly every day I walk by the theater where "Lazarus," David Bowie's new musical is currently being performed. As recently as a few weeks ago, while the show was still in rehearsals, I passed the building and thought, "David Bowie's probably inside there right now." And then I had this strange sense that I would someday meet him. It would happen! And I'd bring my dad. Time ran out, though. That's another thing I've come to know in my old age, and yet I'm still so reluctant to accept: we have no control over such things. As Bowie sang, "Time may change me. But I can't trace time..." So while we're here, while we can, while we have the ones we love...let's dance (Dad, I love you.).
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange) Ch-ch-changes Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and face the strange) Ch-ch-changes Pretty soon now you're gonna get older Time may change me But I can't trace time I said that time may change me But I can't trace time