It’s a strange thing when a celebrity dies. Some people mourn for days or weeks or months. Others feel ostracized when it’s someone whose work they didn’t know, outside the world of grief. I recall the deaths of Kurt Cobain (I was 8) and Princess Diana (I was 11) with confusion, a sense of not knowing who exactly had died and why it mattered.
With David Bowie’s recent death—the first widely-mourned death of 2016—many of us are feeling sad and disappointed. Others are feeling left out or confused or excluded.
“Who is David Bowie?” some people ask. “Why didn’t I ever listen to his music? Why is it such a big deal that he died? Which songs did he sing?”
I’ve talked to a few people in this boat. This is one of the places where I feel somewhere in the middle. I would never claim to be a David Bowie expert, but I’m not annoyed by the mass of grief. The public mourning, the internet sadness, the elegies on Twitter and eulogies on Facebook. It seems justified, in his case. His death surprised us. It didn’t seem like his career—no, his life—should be over.
Can I name every song by him? No. But I still feel as if I, and the world, has lost something, someone.
There seems to be a sense of guilt too, for some people. Like when you lose a friend or a loved one and wonder if you could have been better to them. Here, you wonder if you could have been a better fan. I recall when Hunter S. Thompson killed himself in 2004 and my response was that I should have read The Rum Diary already. When Heath Ledger died in 2008, I felt a mixture of annoyance that people were acting as sad as they were and a sense of concern that it might hurt the upcoming The Dark Knight and its potential sequels.
Other deaths completely annoyed me because of the mourning. People I didn’t realize anyone liked were suddenly eliciting tears. People cared about Michael Jackson dying? Robin Williams? Ryan Dunn?
But who am I to say that it’s silly to mourn someone you’ve never met? If I can be saddened by the death of Leslie Neilsen or Brian Jacques, then who am I to judge someone for being sad about Ryan Dunn?
My original intention was to write this blog post as a listicle, a guide to how to become a Bowie fan. But does David Bowie’s memory deserve to be pared down to a “Top Ten Blah Blah Blah” list of ideas?
Here is some of what I would have included: Listen to Seu Jorge’s cover album and watch The Life Aquatic. Read a recap of the recent David Bowie museum exhibit. Listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in one sitting. Watch The Prestige to see his wizard-like interpretation of Tesla. Watch Labyrinth.
Consume media inspired by David Bowie that doesn’t feature him. Read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, particularly volumes 1 and 4, in which Lucifer is a blonde, charming, effeminate fallen angel who resembles Bowie and decides he doesn’t really feel like ruling Hell anymore. Read some Batman comics from the 80s and 90s or 2000s by Frank Miller or Grant Morrison or Jeph Loeb or Alan Moore, many of which feature a Joker inspired in appearance and mood by some of Bowie’s personas, including Bowie’s Thin White Duke being warped into The Joker as The Thin White Duke of Death.
Listen to Bowie’s “Heroes” and then the TV on the Radio cover of it. Listen to “Fame” and realize that John Lennon co-wrote it with Bowie. Try to hear Lennon’s voice coming through at the end of the track. Look at the original hand-written lyrics of “Fame.”
(My first real appreciation of Bowie was the above-mentioned Seu Jorge cover album and then listening to the originals, a reverse experience from what one would expect. It worked for me.)
Or don’t do any of this. It’s up to you how you want to mourn Bowie’s death or if you want to be a fan. As I said above, my original intention was to write this blog post as “Top Ten Things to Do to Become a David Bowie Fan,” but that seems cheap now.
You can take the recommendations above or you can forge your own path. Either way, you will enjoy it.