How David Bowie Helped Me Figure Out Who I Am

Whenever somebody tells me that they don’t like David Bowie, I just can’t help but think that they’re wrong.

And I don’t mean wrong in the sense that they disagree with my personal conviction that he’s the coolest musician of all time. I mean objectively, demonstrably wrong.

That’s because Mr. Bowie did it all, and he did it all really well. You name it, he tried it, and everyone can find at least one ambassador to their personal tastes from among his six-decade exploration and expansion of the potentials of musical performance. I’ve always felt that if you don’t like Bowie, you just haven’t listened to enough.

The tried-and-true trope is to call a consistently seamless genre-shifter like Mr. Bowie a “musical chameleon,” but that really doesn’t give him enough credit. Chameleons blend in with their surroundings. Bowie did everything but.

The tried-and-true trope is to call a consistently seamless genre-shifter like Mr. Bowie a “musical chameleon,” but that really doesn’t give him enough credit. Chameleons blend in with their surroundings. Bowie did everything but.

When he decided he wanted to try his hand at a certain sound, he didn’t mimic it: He learned from it, determined what it had to offer, and then shaped it to suit his will.

His personas (of which there were many) were often larger than life, his costumes (of which there were even more) often outlandish.

But Bowie never once allowed his own identity – personal or stage – to take precedence over what the songs meant to his listeners.

He always made sure to leave room for everybody – whether they were square or weird, gay or straight, naïve or world-weary – to formulate an image of themselves in his characters and in his art.

The lyrics of songs like “Space Oddity” or “Starman” each tell a story, but these songs and many more have all blossomed into millions of stories in and of themselves, representing as many different snapshots of a particular triumph or struggle, romance or heartbreak as there are people who have listened to and found a sliver of their own identity within them.

I know I’ll never forget the pure joy of singing and bobbing along to “Let’s Dance” with Mom one night during our drive home from an away soccer game my junior year of high school.

I know I’ll never forget the pure joy of singing and bobbing along to “Let’s Dance” with Mom one night during our drive home from an away soccer game my junior year of high school.

Or mining Bowie’s affirmation that “You’re not alone!” in the chorus of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” for every shred of consolation it could offer following her passing from cancer just four years later.

Or the sense of mischievous satisfaction earned by slipping “Lady Grinning Soul” onto a Christmas gift mixtape CD for my grandparents last year, gambling correctly that, wooed by the classical piano and flamenco guitar, they would overlook the song’s slightly slinky lyrical content.

For those memories and many more, thank you, David Bowie.

Mr. Bowie may have cooked up all of his songs and characters and stories and put them together, but they have always ultimately been ours.

It could be that behind all of the hairdos, outfits, and makeup, we never really knew him.

But what makes David Bowie truly important to so many is that he helped us to know us.

And no matter how much I listen to him, I’ll always feel that I just haven’t listened to enough.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Eden, Janine and Jim/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Do You Think?

comments

About the Author
Jordan is a graduate student in geography and natural resources conservation at the University of Alabama, where he earned his undergraduate degree in accounting in 2015 and operates a weekly Americana radio broadcast for the school's student-run station.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top