The passing of David Bowie has brought forth many reactions online: there were the paeans to his music and style; tributes to his cultural impact; and, as is the case whenever a major figure passes, an instant and insatiable level of media coverage.
Yet for me, the loss of Bowie was, as it was for so many of his biggest fans, deeply personal. And that was because it was David Bowie who taught me the importance of self-reinvention, a principle that has remained front and center throughout my adulthood.
This then is obviously evident throughout Bowie’s work, as well. What began as a stagnant folk-singing career with his debut album quickly morphed into a string of glam-rock masterpieces that are now familiar to even the most casual of music listeners. (As cliché as it sounds, I go with Ziggy.) From there, after a brief foray into veiled fascist messaging while grappling with a gargantuan cocaine addiction during the making of Station to Station, Bowie left the USA for Berlin to kick his drug habit. In doing so, he embraced his love for the avant-garde and embarked on a string of albums (known colloquially as his ‘Berlin Trilogy’) that would come to redefine his career, and, consequently, pop music in general.
The musical “characters” that he conjured along the way—Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, et al.—helped to complement what was being heard while also enabling the performer to do the very same: to provide himself a fresh template with which to start fresh.
This idea of rebirth and reinvention has been one of inspiration for countless numbers of Bowie fans—not least of all, for me. I grew up the son of a high school principal on US Army bases in Germany, a triple-outsider status was not easy, to say the least. Upon my high school graduation, college necessitated a transition, one that led to my moving to London to pursue a theater degree.
Several years later, after falling out of love with theater and falling hard for American political journalism, I transferred to a well-respected university in Washington DC in order to follow my dream of being involved in American political discourse. And –after a brief foray living in Beijing for several years—I have found myself in New York City, pursuing exactly what it is that I love.
I had several muses along the way, but perhaps none more so than Mr. Bowie. His ready willingness to chuck it all away and start all over again, to sacrifice everything and start over again in order to be true to oneself, set the standard for me from an early age as to how an artist respects himself—and, consequently, respects his work. He was always the beacon in the distance, urging me to do what I loved. He illustrated that, as long as you were remaining true to yourself and your soul, there was nothing you could not accomplish, no dream you could not fulfill.
Today, with the sad news of Bowie’s passing, the world mourns. And yet, intermingled with the sense of sadness at our loss, I cannot help but also feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to the man. I would likely be nowhere near where I am today were it not for him. Thank you, Mr. Bowie. You were loved and you will be missed.
Author: Stephen Calabria
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: cea at Flickr