The following post is also published on the Irish Times website as part of a collective tribute to David Bowie from Irish writers Julian Gough, Joseph O’Connor, Edna O’Brien, Roddy Doyle, Eimear McBride, Hugo Hamilton, John Kelly, John McAuliffe and many others – David Bowie: Irish Writers Pay Tribute
It is just after one o’clock in the morning. My phone lights up with a message from another planet and three words that don’t belong together: “Bowie is dead.”
David Bowie is dead.
It was cancer that took him, a cancer he kept private from this world – my world – of which he was so much a part yet always apart.
David Bowie had cancer.
Four words that don’t belong together.
The strange and unsettling sounds of Black Star have filled the rooms of my house since the album’s release on his 69th birthday, three days ago. “Lazarus” stopped me in my tracks this weekend and prompted me to mention to my daughter that I thought it sounded like the work of a man at the end of his life – a brilliant, beautiful man who for decades has illuminated the edges of my life – my world – with his sound and vision. But I didn’t dwell on the thought. Maybe I didn’t want to tempt fate.
In the middle of any David Bowie song, I can find bits and pieces of the stories of my life. My favorite color, the best to wear for a television camera, is blue, “blue, blue electric blue.” The ring-tone on my phone reminds me who I am at inopportune times when I’m dressed in a suit. “Rebel, Rebel!” it blares out. “How could they know? Hot Tramp I love you so.” Hot tramp. Swirling in my brain when I miss you on a Saturday, “Let me put my arms around your head. Gee, it’s hot, let’s go to bed.” Let’s. On a day when I’m in the deep end again, but unafraid because yes, yes, “we can be heroes, just for one day.” We can do anything.
We’re a different kind.
Beginnings and endings. Question marks. Full stops. A pause. A change of key. A post-script. A footnote. Always, always a Bowie song.
Ain’t there one damn song that can make me
break down and cry?
More than one.
Selfishly, I want you bound to earth again, David Bowie, and all the young dudes to carry the news. I want Time to take a cigarette and Ziggy on guitar, and forever – I want – forever – to just let the children boogie.
Bowie is dead.
Maybe I feel the way my husband felt when Lou Reed died. He was profoundly saddened by the death of the strange stranger who somehow knew him and his wild side better than I did.I know that now. He refused to talk about Lou Reed’s passing, struggling, I suppose, with the reality that there would be no more new tales from the dirty boulevard. Or maybe there was something else, a psychic inkling that just 18 days later, he would fly, fly away too.
Unable to talk about Lou Reed dying, I wrote instead. And just twelve days before my husband died, I found myself recollecting – silently – the first time our daughter discovered her beautiful hands. For me, her besotted mother, it was a magical milestone, as though our girl was the first child ever to make such a discovery. Her fingers in constant motion, I called it “hand ballet.” Transfixed, as though under a spell, she paid rapt attention, staring intently, unblinking, at those little fingers that would all too soon cooperate to clap hands, tie laces, create pictures, make music, whisk eggs, and wipe away tears.
Never would I have predicted a moment in my adult life, when I would so easily suspend in one singular thought my baby girl and the late Lou Reed, their elegant hands in motion – she saying hello to her hands, he waving goodbye. His wife Laurie Anderson, wrote that Lou Reed spent much of his last days on earth “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on a Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.”
Beginnings and endings.
This past weekend, as I listened to “Lazarus” and David Bowie telling us that he would be free – just like that bluebird – I thought back to a sunny drive-in kind of Saturday before I gave birth to my daughter, eighteen years ago. Her daddy and I were in the room that would become her nursery, nervous and unprepared for the extent to which our lives were about to change. We were absolute beginners. We absolutely loved each other, and the rest could go to hell.
Superstitious, we had decided not to find out if I was carrying a boy or a girl. Thus, the nursery was ‘gender neutral,’ its only splash of color a painting of animals and birds in a forest, vibrant in primary colors. I don’t recall the details of our conversation that afternoon, but I remember a pause, when that man of mine peered at the painting and pointed out a bluebird perched in dark green foliage. I hadn’t noticed it before.
“Look.” he said. “A little bluebird of happiness – waiting for our new baby. A bluebird of happiness. Isn’t that something.”
Yes. It was. It really was something. It was a moment – a moment we clung to as long as we could. We were absolutely happy, we were creatures in the wind, we were Pretty Things. We were heroes.
Thank you, David Bowie, for dazzling me with your ch-ch-ch-ch-changes so I have never been afraid of mine. For keeping me young and curious and hopeful even on the darkest of days, on a day like today.
I absolutely loved you.
Rest easy now.