Rock n Roll Suicide

Last night I was in a light sleep, one easily disrupted, a sleep I’m often in. What disturbed this particular sleep, however, was relatively unique. My phone was ringing off the hook, something that occurs with ever lessening frequency. I ignored it, knowing it could wait until morning. When I awoke, the first message I saw read, “You’re going to wake up to bad news. I’m sorry.” I didn’t want to scroll through the rest of the texts and notifications; lying back in bed seemed like a much better idea. But the day had to start at some point, so I read on. A missed call from my sister. A follow-up text from her. Two texts from a friend who adores rock. “CNN just sent me an update.” “I just got a BBC notification.” A news update of my own. David Bowie is dead. It seems like a hoax. Three days after he releases a new album, one centered on his mortality. After months of cancer so completely hidden that it seemed not a soul knew. But that’s why we immediately felt that it was true. Bowie seemed to aspire for his life to exist outside of reality. Why would his death be any different?


I always struggle when people ask me who my favorite musician is. I respond with a question of my own, a common evasion for a common query. How do you define favorite? One I listen to most? One I respect most? Something else? When I ask myself that question, however, my response is much quicker: David Bowie. I don’t know why I pause when others ask me this. Maybe it’s because a lot of people my age associate Bowie (wrongly), with the past, and I fear they’ll see me as one of those young people who overly valorize the old rather than embrace the new. Maybe it seems like, if you’re going to pick a “past” musician, you should say the Stones or the Beatles or Bob Dylan, not a pop artist. Whatever it is, it has stopped me from admitting that one of the weirdest, most creative artists working during my lifetime was also my favorite. Bowie was a beautiful genius in ways that writers much smarter than I either have or will cover. No matter the style of pop, you can find a Bowie song that does it well. The man existed at all times, which meant he seemed to exist out of time. His death is a reminder that, unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Eventually, the clock came for Bowie. He was timeless; now he is timeless.


Imagine David Bowie dying slowly. Imagine him in a hospital gown, a white one with red and black polka dots, one that isn’t form fitting at all. Imagine him talking to his doctor. “Well David, you really shouldn’t have smoked those Reds for so long.”[1] Imagine his final day. His family gathered around his deathbed, staring into his eyes for the final time.[2] It seems inconceivable. It feels right that his death occurred in the middle of the night (for people in the U.S. at least). For all the talk about his personas, that for him everything was a performance and his every action performative, he often moved without commotion. He announced he’d stop touring as Ziggy mid-concert, as if he had just made up his mind; he released The Next Day and Blackstar with little of the pageantry associated with an aging star making a comeback. I can’t imagine him dying, but I can imagine him slipping out one night, without fanfare, just him returning from whence he came. An alien who blessed us with his presence, and, upon giving us enough, went home.


I’m in Key West again—it’s been a little under a year since I was here last. As I walk into the house, almost everything is as it was, just slightly rearranged. I hope that Bowie, whether on Mars or some similarly far out place, finds the same.

[1] Yes, this is riffing on Alex Pappademas’s inability to picture Bowie doing everyday, normal things.

[2] Bowie has a family. I don’t know why, but even that seems odd. Can aliens marry humans?