We’re floating above planet Earth, spacesuit making limbs heavy and bulky. We bounce because in our 10-year-old imaginations, that’s how spacemen walk. Like the Michelin Man, all heavy and limbs and awkwardness. “Ground Control to Major Tom.” Bounce, float, we imagine leaving the capsule because it’s drama class time and we’re imagining we’re in space. They say the song is weird; I think it’s really sad and try not to cry the first time it’s played. Poor Major Tom. He’s all alone. I try to be twice my size and encased in a space suit. I am still sad, floating, away from everyone I love.
I am Ground Control. I am wearing gigantic headphones and sitting in front of the record player at my grandparents house. My brother gripes for a turn with the headphones, and I pretend I can’t hear him. I don’t want to listen to Peter and the Wolf or The Beatles or whatever he has on repeat this week. I am grounded, listening to something wrong, high above the earth, because the stars look very different, today, and it makes me sad that no one understands what Major Tom can see. Now he’s alone too, as untethered in the ether as I am connected to this turntable and machine.
“Why did you cut off your hair, you look like your mother?” My so-called friend accused me. This time, not sheepish, still scared, I respond. “I wanted to,” I said, suddenly slightly angry. Whose permission did I need to ask this time? I stretch out my shimmery blue fingernails and walk up the hill to school with the other girls. Except this morning they’re marching ahead, arm in arm. I cut my hair. I didn’t consult. I did something wrong. I look around in the dim morning light and sigh.
I’m a Starman. I can’t tell where the sparkly eyeshadow ends and my eyes begin but it looks brilliant! I have these massive flares and I play guitar (badly.) I’m the space invader. I’m not quite rock and roll yet, but I did sneak in to see The Velvet Goldmine, and just bought another sparkly top and a ring. The Spiders From Mars. I’m going to play guitar in a band, eventually. Like Elastica, like a rock-and-roll bitch. Okay, fine, right now I’m doing excellently with these Oasis songs, but I bought my guitar and I painted around the rim with sparkly nail polish. I can do everything but bar chords because my hands are too small. One day, I’ll get a sunburst Gibson Les Paul. The sound from that…wow. Just wow. I can’t wait to get purple streaks in my short hair, accent it with purple nail polish and maybe a few red highlights in there too. If I sparkle, he may land tonight, so I rearranged my room so I can look out of the window, lying in bed. I will sparkle, one day, I will.
Ziggy Stardust came to my college dorm, through tinny computer speakers, but was lost when the towers fell. I was afraid of Americans because they turned angry and moblike. I was scared, we were all scared. But we continued with the new normal. Then one day: “What are you doing tonight?” I heard over the cafeteria punctuation, the smells of the salad bar, the soy sauce, the clashing of frying pans at the make-your-own stir fry station. “I dunno,” I said. He had a girlfriend; we weren’t Like That. “Wanna come see David Bowie with me tonight? I have an extra ticket. The lady can’t make it.”
I was at the back of The Garden, seeing dark flashing lights, hearing my heart leap as He opened with Rebel Rebel. I could cover him with my thumb, but he was there, down below, moving and energetic and as inclusive as if I were in a small intimate club. I screamed, drunk on the music. I cheered, high on the lyrics. We sang out our voices, hearts and souls as he encored with Ziggy Stardust. Oh no, love! You’re not alone. He took us into his embrace, creatively, sonically, cosmically, and we were all changed.
Politically the landscape shifted, the meaning of a Heathen altered. Cover band friends played Bowie hits, we thrilled to the interpretations. Ziggy never let me down through the bad concerts, late nights, cigarettes and drinks. He played guitar when the review copies of CDs were dire or late, when jobs were lost and apartments won, when nothing made sense and no one understood. I could have been a China Girl but I put on my red shoes and danced the blues. Then I moved to New York.
It’s Christmas and despite all the CDs we still have downstairs, we can never decide what to listen to. I know. I always know. I grab Station to Station, Let’s Dance and Ziggy Stardust because that’s what’s supposed to happen when I’m sitting and chatting with the love of my life and my parents. My dad debates the pluses and minuses of the music, I promise not to sing. The room is warm, the sound is love, and everything is comfortable. Modern love walks beside me, modern love delights me. This time, it hasn’t walked on by and everything is where it should be.
It’s my birthday, the libations are flowing. We’re up late chatting, eating cake. January 8. David Bowie’s birthday, he’s older than my dad (but not much.) “That’s cool,” I think from a slightly hungover daze, hungry because someone ate my lunch. I see the posts, “Happy Birthday Mr. Bowie.” Alladin Sane looks back at me from the white of Facebook, a steady presence. A calming, gorgeous, crafted face. One day I’ll be him for Halloween. Except with more sparkles.
It’s Monday morning. Facebook scroll, warm car, “To imagine a world without this creative force of nature is unthinkable. A true star, a true artist. I saw him perform three times and he blew me away. One of a kind. Thank you for everything David Bowie,” were the first words I saw from my former music editor turned friend. “Oh my god, David Bowie.” While not driving I have the freedom to scan Google and it’s true. He’s gone. “David Bowie died,” I say, disbelieving. “What?” my love says. We turn on NPR. 18 months. Cancer. Died peacefully. Shock. I stop to get coffee, Ashes to Ashes greets me over the speaker with the barista. “David Bowie,” I say, my voice trailing off. “I know,” the barista says. “I changed the station to David Bowie this morning. It was the right thing to do.” I agree and take my coffee and start reading the news, today, oh boy.
I get to work. I change the station to David Bowie here too. It’s the right thing to do.
I listen to KEXP radio remotely through my headphones, alone, no one in the office mentions the news. The familiar DJ is a comfort; he unites all of us in sadness and sound. We listen to David Bowie songs all morning. Then the show ends and I’m alone, physically but communicating and sharing and reading with all the other mystified misfits. I start listening to Hunky Dory. I can’t trace time. A world without David Bowie. Now he’s on the best-selling show. He’s up there, finding life on mars. I watch the video for Blackstar, a song that last week I dismissed. It’s jazzy, I thought. It’s not sparkly. I don’t understand. Now it makes sense. Now a bit of magic has left the world; the absence marks the end of an era, the loss of a friendly creative force we never knew in person, but whose identities charmed and thrilled and inspired and changed and touched and helped and saved and calmed and cheered and bemused and changed us. They always changed us.
Now we will sparkle like a different girl. Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, Starman.
“I didn’t need these things. I didn’t need them.”