I wanted to write “Alive, Alive, Alive” in the hopes that reports of David Bowie’s death might be a hoax of some sort, but alas, that is not the case. He is dead.
Like most people, I hadn’t been aware that he was sick and in a prolonged battle with cancer. In fact, like so much of the art and artists we experience along the way, I hadn’t given much thought to Bowie or his music in years other than to perform a version of “Under Pressure” with Seattle band Furniture Girls a few years ago when I filled in on bass for one of their shows. I do have a few Bowie CDs somewhere—The Man Who Sold the World and Ziggy Stardust and I think a greatest hits collection or two—but I can’t remember the last time I put one in the stereo, can’t even remember the last time I might have thought to look for them. Hell, if I thought about him at all, Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” is what came to mind.
It happens, this kind of forgetting, this kind of moving on to find new things to inspire us, and Bowie’s music isn’t alone in sitting unplayed on my shelf. I have hundreds of CDs that have had their time in my life, but now the music they contain is silent in my house. I would probably be surprised were I to go over now and look through the CDs. “Oh, cool. I forgot I had this.” Or maybe, “When the hell did I get this? I don’t even remember this band.”
But I haven’t done it. The CDs sit there, and I make no effort toward them. I think, instead, about a woman I heard about on the news over the weekend. She died in a car accident, and her story was reported between news of the record Powerball jackpot and how cold the weather would be for the Seahawks Vikings playoff game. It was a blip, the story—and perhaps her life too—and it struck me for a moment as sad. It was a reminder that we all die, that life ends often with no meaning at all on the side of the road at 3:00 AM, and I imagine this afternoon that no matter how much those close to the dead woman may have liked Bowie and his music, they’re not thinking of the musician. They have a different funeral to plan, a will to sort out, the unfinished remnants of a life to deal with. And so a line from a Motorhead’s “1916”—a song by another recently deceased musician—comes to mind.
“And now there’s nobody remembers our names.”
For most of us, that’s the way it will go. We will be forgotten names. There won’t be any news reports, no memorials, no public ceremony to celebrate the life lived, and though I’d like to say it’s all even, that no one death is greater or worse than another, no one loss more significant, I can’t. Some losses are. And most of us are just blips. We need the likes of Bowie and Lemmy to brighten up our lives and give us something to shout about, something to dance to, so I do walk over the CD shelf. I find The Man Who Sold the World. I pick it up, but I don’t put it in the stereo just yet. I wonder instead what the dead woman was listening to when her car was hit. I wonder what I will be listening to when my time comes. It was a preoccupation of mine in The Music Book, the question of what the final soundtrack will be. If I have a heart attack today, it will be Bowie most likely. Or Motorhead. And in a certain way of thinking, I hope this is the case because with the knowledge that Bowie and Lemmy are so recently gone, all their music that I haven’t listened to in years comes roaring back, and the feeling comes that the world just got a little darker.
And a whole lot quieter.
It wasn’t so after the woman died, but it is now. A significant piece of all the brightness that was is now dead, dead, dead, and all we can do is play their music and hope that somehow we are more than just a blip.
RIP David, Lemmy. You will be missed.