My Favourite Chameleon

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Cover art for Diamond Dogs album by David Bowie

I should be doing my budget and several other dozen tasks this morning, including working on the next scene for Erys in the fifth book of the Elf Gate series. But I can’t. I woke to the news that one of my favourite chameleons has passed away. Someone else called him a “unicorn too cool for this universe”, and I really like that description, too. But I relate to him as a chameleon. No matter how you remember David Bowie, he was a unique and magical talent. So, I have to follow my heart today and write about him before I can move on to non-magical things … like budgets.

I can count on one hand the number of celebrities that I shed a tear for upon hearing that they were no longer with us in this world. The day that John Lennon was shot, I felt sick to my stomach. Everyone I knew probably knew I was a big fan of his, so the shock that ripped through me upon hearing of his murder, and the fact that I cried like a baby for the rest of the day, probably was no surprise to anyone. Lennon’s music had a profound impact on my life. The loss of Robin Williams was the second time I cried for a life that touched mine personally without ever having known the man on a personal level. I thought at first the news was a cruel hoax, but when I found out it was true, I felt heartbroken. Again, I was a huge fan, but this was a different kind of sadness — a deeper kind of sadness because I had spent my whole life dealing with depression and suicide issues. I had tried to take my own life the same way he succeeded at taking his. I couldn’t understand why someone would murder a musician, but I could understand why a comedian would hide his pain until he couldn’t take living any more. Sadly, I must now add David Bowie to my list of “heroes lost”. And this surprises even me.

I am not what most people would consider to be a David Bowie fan. And yet I guess I am because his loss hurts. I was never truly dedicated to his music, but as I look back, I see now that he was like some kind of milestone marker for me. (Please click on the links to enjoy the memories I’ve been sifting through today.)

Though I was a small child at the time, I can remember seeing David Bowie sing on TV with Bing Crosby in a Christmas special. The song they sang — a blend of “Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth” — is now a holiday classic I still listen to every year from CD.

Space Oddity” is probably the first David Bowie song I remember hearing and knowing, “This is David Bowie.” But it is the Diamond Dogs LP that made me pay attention to the singer more than the songs. The older sister of one of my school friends played it during a visit, and I was mesmerized by that freakish cover art. I remember thinking something like, “Wow, here’s a guy who’s not afraid to be himself … or anything else that strikes his fancy.”

Maybe it’s because I also became a chameleon, and I could easily look to him as one of the first people I was aware of who fluidly and successfully reinvented his appearance over and over. Whether in costume or fashion, he wore his art and owned it. And I can appreciate artists who make their appearance and persona part of their performance, especially those who don’t fear androgyny. When I lived in Japan and came across complaints from westerners on the Internet about J-rock artists dressing in such outlandish costumes, or men dressing like women, David Bowie was among the names I pointed out in western culture for having made “glam rock” a popular thing, and Ziggy Stardust being the perfect example how all-encompassing a show or performance could be when presenting fantasy-element entertainment or using music to tell stories. (i.e. “Rock operas” anyone?)

Maybe it’s because when when he sang about “changes” or being “under pressure” the lyrics hit a little too close to home for me. Stuff was happening in my personal life that made me listen to such songs over and over and over again … because the music was deep, powerful, and relatable.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve always been a dedicated fan of the fantasy genre and was among the millions hooked on the portal tale about traveling to another realm and meeting a goblin king. The first time I saw a commercial for the “upcoming” movie Labyrinth advertised, I immediately wanted to see it. It was my kind of movie.

Or maybe it’s just his cheeky sense of humour that shows up in songs like “I’m Afraid of Americans” with Trent Reznor , and clips like this from Extras with Ricky Gervais. … Maybe it’s all of the above and more.

One thing I know for sure. The world has lost a versatile, unique talent the likes of which were never seen before. Fortunately for us, David Bowie’s influence lives on through the magic of his arts … just like stardust.

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