In January of this year, when the news broke of David Bowie's passing, at that moment, it felt as if no other musician in the world existed. Every corner you turned, headline you read, Facebook profile picture you saw, a tribute of some kind was being made. The catalogue of music the man left behind was astounding, the foundation on which his songs were created well beyond what some could fully comprehend, and in a way, are still unable to. There was a sophistication about Bowie's music that was far from ordinary, an approach that blurred the lines between art and sexuality. He was a man of many faces, and one. On April 21st, as my son and I were preparing to leave for the Giants game in San Francisco, it was reported by multiple news stations, social media outlets and emoji-ridden text messages from family and friends that Prince had died of unknown causes.
He was 57 years old and died at his recording studio in Minnesota. I was floored. Here were two of the most influential and iconic musical artists of our time lost in a span of months. It didn't seem real, or even possible. It felt out of place, like a deleted scene in a movie you realize after watching it, has no place in the order of things. Well, maybe not like that. But shocking, nonetheless. The impact on the music world was what everyone was talking about. Comforting as it was to see so many people pay tribute to them, what you were still left with in the end is how your own life is altered, and the lives you know their music touched so deeply, memories certain songs instantly propel to the surface, both heartache and victory afoot. You may not know every song. I sure as hell don't. But the ones I'm fond of are etched deep into experiences from my past and present.
Music has that power. Those who know me well know I've had a love affair with music for quite some time. So when we lose an artist such as David Bowie, Prince, or for me in particular, Elliott Smith, it leaves a permanent mark, a scar you continually expose whenever you listen to one of their albums, or do something to which one of their songs became a soundtrack. I won't pretend to harbor expert knowledge of either musician's body of work. There are songs I'll admit I've probably never even heard. But it's their legacy that speaks the most to people, regardless of the collection of said catalogue one owns.
When I hear Bowie's China Girl or Prince's Purple Rain, I'm reminded of moments that were made special due to those very songs. I was young when Purple Rain was released and remember being kicked out of my parents' living room during Prince and Apollonia's sex scene. I was forced to listen to the music from the hallway and that's what stuck. I was a ten year old boy sitting in a darkened corridor as the glare from the television provided my only source of light, listening to this angelic voice sing about falling grapefruit juice. I had no idea what Purple Rain was. I just knew I wanted to hear about it constantly. Bowie's music became equally significant.
When friends would ask me who I thought the world's greatest band or musician was, I would always feel compelled to say The Beatles. Not because of their music, mind you, which of course is brilliant, but more so due to the entire genres of music they inspired, a category of which David Bowie is easily a part. I was in my twenties when I first heard Ziggy Stardust for the first time. From there, my collection of his music grew, songs I couldn't get out of my head, from Aladdin Sane's Saturday Night to Hunky Dory's Changes, Stardust's Five Years to the title track of Heroes. The list of songs is unending though to some need only be comprised of a select few.
This is how these artists have connected with people, their stories wired directly into the consciousness of millions. Everybody has had sex to a Prince song at one point in their life. Even if that's not true now, it will be someday. In an industry that on some levels has skinned originality alive, these were two of the most versatile and integrity driven talents. And now they're gone. On the day David Bowie's death was reported, musician and writer Carrie Brownstein wrote via her twitter account:
"It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone."
I knew exactly what she meant. One could argue that the landscape of popular music today has been reduced to a hue no longer rich with ingenuity. Original voices haven't disappeared completely. I just long for the screams of the silent innovators, and will forever miss the two that were taken from us far too early. The holes on our old bedroom walls where the tacks once held the posters of our favorite bands act like constellations of our past. Even filled, they still echo the nights we would lay on our beds, headphones on, and escape. David Bowie and Prince, among others, were the forces that took us there. And for that, I will forever be grateful.