WORDS BY LJ & LIZ, ILLUSTRATION BY JEN
A bunch of people had posted pictures of David Bowie looking chic and bony-faced to their Instagram accounts, which seemed like a normal enough thing to do, since David Bowie'd been all over the place that week: people were in love his new record, called Blackstar (which perplexed me. There's already a Blackstar: Mos Def & Talib Kweli. Did David Bowie not know about that?) and his birthday, same as Elvis', had just passed. David Bowie's a Capricorn. That's the kind of thing I like to talk to people about.
But then I put two and two together, and the world felt very weird then; the day felt uninhabitable. It didn’t seem like it could be true. He seemed so healthy, so dexterous and capable: like a tap-dancer. Golden-cheeked, with a young person’s floppy yellow bangs. I didn’t think of him as a person who would never die; I thought of him as a person who wouldn’t die yet. I thought it was annoying when people on the Internet said they'd thought he'd never die. I thought it was annoying when people on the Internet said shit like he didn't die, he'd just gone back to outer space or something. “He’s not actually from Mars,” I wanted to tell them, but didn’t: it was not my place to say. It was important to me that I exist as a beacon of positive energy on the Internet on David Bowie Death Day. I wanted to honour my relationship with David Bowie.
Bowie's never been my favourite-favourite guy- I don't share the same intimate connection with his music and persona that I do with my deeper homies John, Marc, Joe, Bob & Ray: we're more of a surface-y duo, David Bowie & I. My favourite Bowie songs and I are more than just acquaintances, we're proper friends, but we're the kind of friends who exercise bad judgment when it comes to class-A drugs and drink Aperol Spritzes once or twice a year together. We have fun together, and I value the lightness and ease of that relationship. Excepting "Conversation Piece"*, my most beloved Space Oddity deep cut, I don’t listen to David Bowie songs to feel anything except pleasure.
On David Bowie Death Day, I decided to fill up every last inch of my iPod shuffle with David Bowie's entire discog and have an unfuckwithably pleasurable day. I just want to take a moment to shout out how much I love my iPod shuf for a second here. Its name is Rinky-Dink, and it’s such a huge loser. I bought it in early November when my phone broke and I couldn’t deal with musicless existence but was too poor to buy myself a real iPod. I went to the Dalston Kingsland Argos, looked up ‘iPod shuffle’ on the screen-thing, and immediately fell for this hotshotty lil rose-gold number that was, tragically, out of stock. Then I was like, “Oh, okay, fine, I guess I’ll settle for this, like, platinum one”- which was ALSO out of stock. I then went through the frustrating process— carrying many bags, and an Americano, sweating through my jacket— of attempting to settle for another like twenty iPod shuffles, all of which were out of stock. When I finally found Rinky-Dink, an out-of-date hot pink model that for some reason wasn’t on sale like all her out-of-date loser friends, her ‘runt of the litter’ vibes were so potent that I couldn’t help but fall madly in love. Rinky-Dink is the iPod equivalent of an ugly snaggletoothed pit bull with a heart of gold. I saved her from the kill shelter.
(ABOVE: Love how "Dad in 1997" David Bowie's jacket is here. But he works it! Oh how he works it)I walked out into the world, and the first David Bowie song Rinky-Dink played me was "Rock & Roll Suicide"— Rinky-Dink was on it that day. “You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette,” sang David Bowie the dead person; I’ve always loved that lyric, because I feel like I wrote it: it makes me think of a time in LA when Liz & I were driving along the side of some mountain listening to Torn & Frayed and Mick Jagger sang the bit about ballrooms & smelly bordellos. Liz said, “That line reminds me of something I’d write,” and I thought how lucky we are, to be writers who love rock-and-roll music. Writers who love rock-and-roll music are the only people in the world who get to have that feeling.
I took a picture of a palm tree against a grey sky on David Bowie Death Day. I took the Overground to Shoreditch and "Heroes" started playing as I pushed through the turnstile with my hipbone. I started to cry a little. It was not an intense bout of tears. It was pretty positive as far as crying goes, though not quite tears of joy.
I cried because the song was beautiful and the person who wrote it was dead. The words meant more to me than they ever had before. I like the way that couples in David Bowie songs are always a unified whole, fighting against something. They are always fierce warriors together. I encountered many other instances of this lyrical phenomenon in David Bowie songs over the course of David Bowie Death Day and I knew I’d want to write something about them eventually but I didn’t copy any of them down, I didn’t want to have to take off my mitten and dig through my rucksack for my notebook and then kneel down on the street holding a pen-lid between my teeth, and besides at the time it seemed very obvious that I’d remember them all anyway, but I was wrong about that. You’ll just have to take my word for it, or listen to the songs for yourself.
(ABOVE: Amazing cuffs & boots look, David Bowie)
My second-favourite David Bowie song is called "Unwashed & Somewhat Slightly Dazed". It’s from Space Oddity, an album that I listened to incessantly in March of 2011, when I dressed baby mannequins at a GapKids/BabyGap for a living and winter just wouldn’t quit. I woke up to a blanket of sparkling snow every morning, and morning was at 5 PM, because I worked overnight shifts. It was always dark out. Lunch was a banana and seventeen diet Red Bulls in the middle of the night. I was unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed myself, and knew, really knew, what a wonderful thing that was to be. Life can be as shitty as it wants, just so long as I can find some way to make it romantic. Just so long as I can think back to it five or six years later and remember that it felt like something.
I went into the Sainsbury’s half to buy a calendar and half to feel like I was home, but I couldn’t find a calendar, and didn't feel like I was home, so I just wandered up and down the aisles— I couldn’t handle a mid-"Time" location change. I committed to it. I gripped my backstrap straps in my fists like if I didn’t I would fly away and bopped my head along to the piano, such heavy piano, and raised my eyebrows, emotively mouthed along to the lyrics and didn’t care how weird I seemed— it felt acceptable, that day, to be as weird as I wanted. Everyone was operating comfortably from the vantage point of their own personal weirdest on David Bowie Death Day. He gave us that permission, and it was really fucking nice of him. We all loved him in our own tiny ways, and we didn't think we cared as much as we did but we did, and on that day we all told each other about it, and it helped. Some of us pretended that he was an alien, but I didn’t. I didn’t want him to be. I never pretended anything. I wanted him to have been a human, which he was, and I bounded up and down the frozen foods aisle of a grocery store in a country I wasn't born in, and wondered if maybe I should buy eggs while I was there, but I didn’t, because David Bowie died, and I didn’t care.
*If you've never heard "Conversation Piece," please go listen to it now. It's so "slice of life" and a lot about the reasonably-chill-sounding Austrian shop owner David Bowie lived above when he was like twenty-three or whatever. In it, he sings I’m invisible and dumb, and no one will recall me, which of course ended up being the LEAST true statement ever! We know this for a fact: he just died, and we're all obsessed with recalling him constantly. I listen to Conversation Piece in moments of self-doubt to remind myself that, once upon a time, even David Bowie was a wide-eyed unsuccessful nobody! Somehow this proves that I too will attain David Bowie-levels of success in my life ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
LIZ: The night David Bowie died we had people over to watch the Golden Globes. I was late to my own Golden Globes party; I'd been writing at Farmers Market and on the way home I stopped at the Thai place in the strip mall next to my favorite 7-Eleven, the one at at the corner of Sunset and Rosemont, where one night in winter 2009 LJ and I sat on the curb in the parking lot and filmed a short video about dating do's & don'ts. The Thai restaurant is called Sib Song; it's completely average and my favorite restaurant in Echo Park, now that the bastards have driven Pizza Buona out. My general Sib Song move is to order takeout and then sit at the counter and have a glass of mediocre white wine and read the paper until my food's ready. On David Bowie Death Day I read the New York Times, ordered spicy mint noodles, drank a glass of chardonnay. The Sib Song vibes were really good, really Sunday-night-in-winter cozy and chill; some nice woman and I complimented each other on our jackets (I had on my faux-leopard-fur coat, she was wearing a satin Dodgers jacket) and I got real sentimental about everything. I tweeted "L.A. will never be over, but if the Thai place next to my most emotionally loaded 7-Eleven ever closes, that's when L.A. will be over to me." Still true.
So then I went home to watch the stupid Golden Globes with stupid Ricky Gervais. Ricky Gervais is one of my very least favorite people in all the world; I agree with every word of the song that David Bowie sang about him. But the company was good, and Shaz brought a See's Candies chocolate sampler, and I had some chocolates and some nice wine. Let's all bring chocolate samplers to parties all the time from now on - especially that Whitman's sampler that's all cake-themed chocolates, like Wedding Cake and Red Velvet and Carrot and all that.
After everyone left I was getting ready for bed, and I looked at my phone and people on the Internet were talking about how David Bowie died but most of them were saying it was a hoax. So I went downstairs and said to John, "I think David Bowie died?" and John was like, "But it's a hoax though, I think." So I went back to my room and did some research and got some text messages and pretty soon we all knew it was true. I looked at the Internet for a while, and then I put my earbuds in and opened up my phone iTunes and put David Bowie on shuffle, and listened to David Bowie songs for a long time. "Heroes" was the one that made me cry. I never even liked "Heroes" all that much before, but it was like every moment I'd ever spent not caring about "Heroes" was just building up to this weird new moment of listening to "Heroes" way too loud on the night David Bowie died and letting the intensity and generosity of the song be magnified by millions and loving David Bowie more than ever before.
I've been trying to figure out why David Bowie dying feels so strange, and I think it's got to do with David Bowie being an artist I've known my whole life and who's meant more and more to me as time goes on. It's different from when Michael Jackson died, partly because I didn't love Michael Jackson until the late-in-life age of five, but mostly because my connection to Michael Jackson never got deeper than it was when I was a little kid. I never really use Michael Jackson songs for anything beyond pure joy and nostalgia, but I use David Bowie for so many things, all the time, maybe every day. It's good to look at life through the David Bowie lens and see it all in better colors or brighter colors, or sometimes colors that are totally drab but in some cool weird way.
But yeah - on that Sunday night I stayed up till four in the morning or something, having decided to take a half-day the next day. I listened to more David Bowie songs and reread my "5 David Bowie Songs I'd Rather Die Than Live Without" thing to see if I still agreed with it, which I did, especially the part about how it's better to rise than fade away. At some point I went outside and stood on the porch and listened to "Memory of a Free Festival" and took pictures of the sky like a goof. And then I watched Velvet Goldmine for the first time in a few years. I just wanted to be around Christian Bale being an uncool rosy-cheeked teenager who loves his possibly David Bowie-ish pop idol above all things.
The next morning I slept late, got up and made some eggs and tea, put on the David Bowie shirt my mom gave me after she went to see the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983. I did some boring errands and then drove out to Hollywood Boulevard, to see David Bowie's star on the Walk of Fame. It's right near the Chinese Theater and there were a few dozen people there, many of them making a big show of being sad about David Bowie dying. My usual reaction to people making a big show of being sad about a famous person dying is to feel superior in my reservedness, but that's not how I felt at David Bowie's star. Fighting with people in your head about who's more authentically grieving over the death of a famous person is crass and gauche and, more than anything, just an incredibly boring use of your head. Plus if you can find yourself in a situation where everyone's just standing around and thinking/talking about how much they love David Bowie, then that's really not so bad.
After David Bowie's star I went to Starbucks to do some work, and then I met Sarah at Figaro. Sarah bought me pink champagne and we had French fries and the waiter gave us free chocolate truffles because my birthday was three weeks ago. And then I went back to David Bowie's star, to see what the nighttime scene would be like. There were more people there this time but the mood was mellower and someone was playing David Bowie songs on their phone and all the people sang along to "Under Pressure." I loved the "Under Pressure" sing-along. That "And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night" lyric really got to me.
After that I drove down Sunset Strip to see what the rock clubs had written for David Bowie on their marquees, but it was all pretty boring - very little poetry on the Sunset Strip marquees. On the way home I stopped to get a milkshake, a strawberry-flavor one from the McDonald's at Sunset and Vine, in tribute to the part in "Five Years" where David Bowie sings about "drinking milkshakes cold and long" and the part in "Cracked Actor" where he sings about Sunset and Vine. And then I drove back to Echo Park, drinking my milkshake, listening to David Bowie. When I got home I watched an Instagram video of Flea listening to "Fill Your Heart" and showing the world his new David Bowie tattoo. I watched it about 20 times. My heart was already light, but that little ten-second video made the lightness even lighter. Flea's big cute gap-tooth-smiley face at the end: he's so happy about how much he loves David Bowie, which is the perfect way to be. The best way to use David Bowie is to just radiate light.