Recently, Jill Tan Radovan sent me a little questionnaire for an article she was doing on musicians reacting to David Bowie’s passing. I was pretty sure she just needed soundbites and one-sentencers, but I found myself unable to stop writing. Bowie’s passing affected me, and many of my friends, more than we thought. Maybe it’s because it happened without warning. Maybe it’s because we thought that the man couldn’t die.
Here are the answers I sent to Jill, along with some audiovisual aids. It’s incredibly hard describing Bowie’s importance to people who have never been fans, but to quote Carrie Brownstein, ” It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone.”
What was your initial reaction when you learned of David Bowie’s passing?
I remember I was on a call at work and the minute I put my phone down I saw all these tweets saying “David Bowie RIP”. I stood up and went to the table of my co-workers with taste, totally shellshocked, and went “Bowie’s dead?!”
They all looked at me with sad eyes and a nod. I had to sit down.
How do you feel about it/how does it affect you now?
It’s still shocking. Bowie is one of those people you never thought would die, and unlike someone like Lou Reed, I didn’t hear anything about him being sick. I was talking to my friends Wanggo and Tals about him just the day before. I saw this awesome gif of drawings of Bowie through the years and sent it to them. We talked about his new album, and the Blackstar video. David Bowie isn’t past tense. He’s still shaking shit up.
Do you remember how/when you discovered David Bowie?
David Bowie is that rare artist where you just keep rediscovering him. Like most people my age, I discovered and became a fan with Labyrinth. People would already say “David Bowie is starring in this movie” and I had no idea, all I knew was there was this cool guy who was Jareth the Goblin King. Then as a little kid I would listen to NU 107 and hear stuff like Space Oddity, China Girl and Let’s Dance and it was only later that I found out all those songs were made by one guy.
That’s what’s great about him. You have this larger-than-life persona but when you get down to brass tacks, the songs are really fucking good. And to be honest I didn’t get into all the weird stuff David Bowie was doing until I saw Velvet Goldmine in the late 90s. I was really more a fan of the music than the fashion and characters.
Favorite song and/or album/film and why
My favorite, favorite song of his is Modern Love. It’s just such so perfect and happy and makes me dance.
I always have to put a Bowie song on when I spin, and if it’s not Modern Love then it’s Let’s Dance or Rebel Rebel. There was a time where, for two months straight, I would put Under Pressure on all the time and sing at the top of my lungs.
Other faves always change, but after he died I was listening to him on Spotify and I started crying when Starman came on. It’s probably the las of his songs that affected me. I really loved that Starman montage in The Martian.
Filmwise I think the best role for him was the Nikola Tesla role in The Prestige, funnily enough. It was perfect, enhanced in part by the fact that Christopher Nolan is such a Bowie fan. There’s also Labyrinth and the Andy Warhol role in Basquiat. My favorite, however, has to be his short role as Phillip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He has only one scene in the finished film, but it’s one of my favorite scenes in movie history.
Since you mention film, I should also take this moment to say how perfect a match cinema and Bowie are. Whether it’s the aforementioned Starman montage, that beautiful scene of Frances Ha dancing in the street to Modern Love, how Heroes plays into Perks of Being a Wallflower or the very ending of Dogville with Young Americans, his music is so cinematic. Even the soundtrack of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was comprised mostly of Bowie covers by Seu Jorge.
How has David Bowie and his music influenced you as a person/artist/musician?
Bowie is a consummate artist, one of the greatest creatives we have in this age. He was unafraid of taking his music to other places: telling stories, creating characters, making films and all these amazing music videos. He was also doing it at a time when nobody was doing that sort of thing. He was controversial and dangerous, and time taught us that that’s what he needed to be at the time. Music videos like “Jump They Say” and “Survive” were super influential to me as a music video director, and his fearless approach at creating without boundaries is something I always aspire to.
Myrene Academia made this status message shortly after his death: “We are going to mourn for a while. And then we’re going to go on and keep our freak flags flying. Because that is what he paved the way for.” That pretty much says in three sentences what I’ve been trying to say this whole essay.
When Bowie died, it felt like a personal death, like someone close to you just suddenly passed away. And then I looked at my Facebook and Whatsapp groups and Twitter feed and my heart wanted to explode because I saw all these people I’ve become close to: bandmates, co-workers, peers, friends, mourn . He was an outsider, he will always be an outsider. And he brought all us outsiders together.