David Bowie did not live in Manhattan. He did not live in a fashionable downtown neighborhood on a busy street where there is right now a pile of flowers and candles and pictures of David Bowie heaped on the sidewalk. People are crowded around, taking pictures of the pile, maybe because they are looking for something to look at and maybe because they are sad, some of them must be sad. A hero died and people generally tend to try and throw their sadness away from themselves instead of finding some more innovative use for it.
Around the corner from this bit of sidewalk I am standing in the public library while a person of indeterminate gender is yelling at a librarian. I first notice the person because of their collection of vibrantly clashing garments. Soon afterwards the person becomes distinguished by the discomfort their behavior is causing the librarian. I can’t hear the details of what the person is after, I can simply tell that the librarian is uncomfortable. At the end of the exchange the person yells, “I’M SORRY I’M UPSET, I JUST CAME FROM DAVID BOWIE’S PLACE, I’M REALLY UPSET, I FUCKING LOVE DAVID BOWIE, HE’S MY SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING,” I couldn’t make out the last words or I forgot them. I didn’t really want to hear. This upset person’s display of upset feelings seems as inappropriate as the display on the sidewalk around the corner. The feeling may be correct but the location is mistaken.
It’s not the librarian’s fault that David Bowie no longer lives on planet earth. The previous statement is inaccurate. David Bowie never lived on planet earth. He was not a human being, he was an invented character made up in the late 1960’s by an Englishman named David Jones. David Jones recently died and during his lifetime he was fairly explicit about the fact that David Bowie was not a person, not himself, not one single person, maybe an alien. It is confusing for us because Jones made this David Bowie so gigantic. He was stunningly generous with his invention, giving us a seemingly endless supply of materials to love, to infuse our sensations into, to project our beliefs onto. What Jones gave us was a location at which to throw our feelings away from ourselves, a moving target X in the loose shape of a man: traditionally referred to as a hero, but something bigger and looser and weirder than the heros we’d known before. Maybe he knew we needed something like this to look towards because he had found himself needing it too. The ego of a human being becomes crusty and unpleasant under the weight of too much attention, and the brilliance of David Bowie is that he was never David Jones (this is also the brilliance of David Jones). David Bowie is a hero that can expand to whatever size we need him to be without the trappings of human limitations. He will live for as long as we need him to and he is right where he always has been, the librarian can help you find him, dancing in a video that is streaming on the internet, rotating in a song on a vinyl record; Bowie didn’t leave us and he never has to.
Back to the sadness sitting on the sidewalk in front of the home of David Jones. The sadness of this seems extra sad because David Jones’ family members must be required to walk past a deposit of other people’s feelings every time they leave their house. It doesn’t seem fair. All these other people can still have the person that they miss in exactly the same ways that they always had him, hear him sing, be inspired by his voice; there is no less David Bowie in the world than there ever has been. But the man that David Jones’ family loved and needed is gone and is never coming back. Unfortunately humans are a greedy species, give us a little and it makes us want more, give us more and it makes us certain we deserve it. And when we are sad we generally do the wrong thing. Sadness feels wrong and being sad incorrectly feels pretty right.
(above poster by Ariana Jacob)