‘Warm Impermanence’

‘We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise, I spoke into his eyes…’

When I woke up, unsettled, at 4am yesterday morning (funny that it’s always https://colemining.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/4am-in-the-morning/), I figured it was symptomatic of the return of the recurrent insomnia and/or bad sleeping patterns that plague me from time-to-time. Finally falling back to sleep- to an odd dream in which I dyed my hair myriad colours (definitely not a typical look for me), I knew that the disrupted sleep meant that it wasn’t likely to be a great day.

But I didn’t expect this.

David Bowie is gone.

I could scarcely wrap my brain around that fact, let alone begin to figure out how to articulate what this means to me, personally. He belonged to the world, certainly, and his legacy lives on in a body of work that is staggering in its diversity and genius. But. He was such a force and presence in my life… I wasn’t sure what to do with this information.

Drinking the first of what would be many coffees, I opened the facebook to a message from the Incomparable Len- the truest Bowie fan that I know (perhaps the truest Bowie fan there is)- just as the CBC told me the same thing. I had to stay off the social media all day – again – this time because I just couldn’t handle all the notices and reminiscences and tributes that are happening, everywhere.

I spent much of the day doing my very best not to cry. Which I managed by not acknowledging that he is gone. Once home, whilst I threw together some dinner, the nightly news kept trying to disabuse me of that little bit of denial. Like the rest of the world, I’ve had to realize that it’s time to face the sad music and let him go.

I’ve written about him a number of times before – generally in passing – when something he wrote, or said, or performed, could express what I was getting at better than I ever could. He was such an ubiquitous influence in my life – and in the lives of my generation and those immediately before and all those after (whether they know it or not) – that little pieces of him creep into the everyday without real notice or acknowledgement.

I really never thought he would die.

The surprise is, in and of itself, a mark of the man and his absolute class. Unlike other ‘celebrities’ these days, David was an intensely private person, living large in the spotlight while in character (whichever character was of the moment), but holding tight to the reins of his real life- with his wife and his family and friendships.

Friday was his 69th birthday- and the release date of his new album, Blackstar, a project that seemed to belie any indication that the fact that he has kept out of the spotlight completely for many months meant that he was struggling with health issues. I first heard the title song a number of weeks ago and, watching the video, I admit to feeling unsettled by the underlying message and imagery. He had a habit of being ‘unsettling’.

Since Friday, ‘Blackstar’ and the second single from the album, ‘Lazarus’, have become all the more poignant, since it seems that the album was intended as his final farewell to this world- and all who loved him. Even his death was art of a spectacularly high form.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

No one was more innovative and inclusive and inspirational than Bowie. No one. He transcended genre and gender and sexuality – while bringing those things to the forefront of important discussions and helping to change the way we view them all. He ripped us out of the ignorance and puritanical biases of the past – often without us realizing he was doing so. His genial intelligence and quick wit and charm distracted us from feeling too much pain from our extraction out of nonsensical previously-held mores.

He was part of the landscape- and frequent contributor to the soundtrack- of my entire life.

As a teenager: on a bus in Pushkin, outside of Leningrad (as it was called then- St. Petersburg in these post-Soviet Union days), listening to ‘Suffragette City’ while sharing earphones with my BFF. Which meant that only one of us could hear the ‘hey mans’. David accompanied us on the tour of Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace museum- with its Amber Room (at that time pre-reconstruction), and was as much a part of my remembrance of that day as were the artistic and historical wonders of the place.

When I first discovered Anne Rice’s vampires (also while a teenager), Lestat looked a whole lot like David in my imagination (never that Cruise guy. Nope. NEVER. And that Pitt guy as Louis?!?! Yeah, no. Worst casting of any movie ever. But I digress…). When I read her now, still, that Brat Prince looks more Jareth (oh how I loved him in Labyrinth. Muppets and Bowie together. Perfection) than Rutger Hauer (Anne’s imagining) or Stuart Townsend (better casting – an unfortunately terrible movie, though).

In my twenties I wrote a long, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness piece of drivel (it haunts me to this day) called ‘Talking to Ziggy’- about the ongoing conversation between a young, struggling woman and the realized ‘ghost’ of Ziggy Stardust (what happens to fictional characters when they are no longer needed? Do they become ghosts, like humans are supposed to do? It was, in some ways, delving into similar themes as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – although he did it much better. Speaking of Neil… he posted this lovely piece – a short story in his latest collection, Trigger Warning – that he calls ‘fan fiction’. Beautiful- and further evidence of the reality that David touched so many of us in so many ways…). Looking back at it now (I pull it out every now and again to assure myself that my writing has improved), I realize that – purplish prose and young-adult angst aside – I can’t under-emphasize the place that guy holds in my heart.

I could go on (and on, and on) about specific experiences that call him to mind, and how his songs take me back to places and times that grow farther away from my immediate recall as I grow older. I won’t, though. I’m still sorting through a lot of them and some ain’t so easy to revisit.

Suffice it to say that he was the person I spoke with when I felt no one else was listening. He was also the one I listened to – and discussed things with – working through questions and crises with the voice in my head that was oh-so-familiar from his songs, his films, his interviews (with the release of Let’s Dance he was ever-present in the beginnings of MTV and MuchMusic). I felt like I knew him. And I never had a doubt that he knew me.

He did so much. His spheres of art and influence were so vast that it makes the rest of us (read: me) feel like incredible slackers. His being was a kick in pants. To get moving. To turn and face the strange and effect changes to things that need changing.

When I’m not paying attention (or focused on something else – my job, for instance), I can slip back into the denial that was my initial coping mechanism upon hearing the news. It’s hard to face a world without him. If I could’ve believed immortality of anyone, it’d have to be David. He was somehow completely human and otherworldly, simultaneously.

The ‘fictional-something’ I’ve been working on forever deals with, in part, ideas of immortality – how we play with the concept, and those things we do to make it happen – in some form – since true, physical, immortality isn’t something to which we humans can aspire (at this time, anyway. Who knows what the more scientifically-inclined might come up with in the future…). Since I’ve been trying to hold to my determination to actually finish the thing this year, it’s a theme that’s uppermost in my thoughts lately.

There’s a lot of talk today about his last song, ‘Lazarus’, and its foreshadowing of his death. It shares its title with play he co-wrote, currently playing in New York. The play is based on The Man who Fell to Earth (David starred in the 1976 film, based on the novel by Walter Tevis) – with its themes of redemption and salvation.

Lazarus was, of course, a mythological figure – the guy that Jesus brought back to life after he had been dead for four days. He was a harbinger of something even greater to come (Jesus’ own resurrection) and the symbol of the defeat of that most indefatigable enemy of humanity: death.

David didn’t seem all that concerned about much outside of THIS life, though. The papers today are talking about his fight to live – to conquer the cancer that was taking him from his wife and young daughter while continuing to create and send messages to all those who have paid attention to what he has had to say for so many years. The use of Lazarus as a character in his swansong(s) is symbolic in its entirety. David understood metaphor and the importance of mythology.

I started this blog as a way of discussing our myths (it’s right there ^^^ in the tagline) and their enduring importance in our shared humanity, and discovered (quite quickly) that our stories and our music, when they’re at their best, come from the same place.

If any one person lived the truth of that with his entire being it was David Bowie. The characters he created, the personas he assumed and cast-off, the ideals and concerns and wonders he expressed, the everyday events in the lives of the ‘normal’ and the not-so-normal people he encountered… all these things have become part of our mythology.

He did that.

He was an exemplar for so much that is good and important.

He altered our perceptions of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ and ‘acceptable’.

He turned taboos/’traditions’ on their heads and made us see their inherent inequity and ridiculousness.

He let us all know that our feelings of lack of belonging – as if we are aliens on our own planet/outcasts in our society – aren’t terribly unique or all that concerning, in the grander scheme of things.

He made us embrace the strange.

He led us new places, and foresaw the changes that would shape new generations.

He warned against inaction.

He changed the world.

He contributed to my world in ways I’m still discovering.

‘Pushing thru the market
square
so many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
we had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse
it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things
to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people’

Whether we have five years, or five hundred years, or five million years, left to us as a species of inhabitants of this world, David reminds us that we need each other – over and above all those other things that are out there.

All loss leads to introspection of some kind. Great loss can lead to great introspection and the finding of new insights. As I turn myself to face me (‘I still don’t know what I was waiting for’ ‘a million dead-end streets’… these lyrics have been hitting me in the heart for months as I figure out what comes next in my own life. Hard to pick one favourite song from amongst the myriad- but right now that’d be it, methinks. ‘Warm impermanence’ indeed.)  – setting aside denial and starting to integrate this great loss – remembered lessons from his body of work will guide (and goad) my future steps. As they always have done.

His last words leave us saddened, yes. Immensely so. But also heartened by the knowledge that he, as Lazarus, was a harbinger of those things that may, yet, come to be realized all over this world – acceptance and light and promise of peace and an understanding of ourselves in all our human variety. His eternal wisdom tells us that we need these things in order to live together in this life, on this planet, together. If we act to harmonize all these realities then the inevitability of death might become less fearsome, and our search for routes to immortality – and anachronistic stories about its possibility – less important than living our best lives now.

His final character is that bluebird – flying free with nothing left to lose.

My love and thanks, Starman. Know that your immortality is secure through those many myths you have left behind you. We have been immeasurably enriched by your example.

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20 comments on “‘Warm Impermanence’

  1. He was a gift to creativity, Cole. Made you take notice of different, made different acceptable before it ever was. I remember being shocked when I first saw him when I was eight or nine. When did guys ever sport make-up or wear his garb? What was this thing? My older brother bought and played his music. I heard it and grew to love it. (So many bands I found that way.) He shocked parents, sensibilities and forced a stock-taking of what was deemed ‘normal’.
    Maybe characters such as he are a most necessary gift to humanity. Without them we would maybe never question norms. It’s like the creative gene sees what needs saying and changing.
    The legacy of swansongs from the greats somehow reveal a world of knowing. I’m thinking right now of and Queen’s ‘Innuendo’ album. Even the track titles speak.
    I find it strange, and have been thinking about it recently, (what with Christmas songs and all) of how many bands emerged in my tweens and teens that have grown with me, as with you.
    We learned from them and maybe they reflected what was current in us and was needing to be reviewed and altered.
    They were and still are a voice for generations.x

    • colemining says:

      He was a gift, A-M, to us all. And demonstrated the best of what we humans can be. He showed us our created boundaries and then told us that it’s okay to push beyond them, by demonstrating that there is greatness to be found in all that is ‘different’.

      I am a bit young (not a lot young, but a bit- I’ll take what I can get) to have seen the really outre stuff when it was first presented to the world (he was less ‘shocking’ – for lack of a better word- by the time he hit my radar), but having seen the (relatively) recent retrospective of his music, art and fashions at the AGO a year and more ago, I can only imagine the impact he made in his early years.

      We need people like him to question those ‘norms’, continually asking if there is anything like sense in them continuing to define our realities in the way that they ‘always’ have done. I’d like to think that he taught me that, in particular, well. My own pushing at ‘tradition for tradition’s sake’ may differ from his, but I feel as though it has the same source- seeing a need for change and saying/doing something about it.

      I think that the best art- music, literature, the visual stuff- does grow with us. We approach things differently as we age and (hopefully) attain some wisdom about the workings of the world. David was one of my great teachers to be sure. Just thinking back on ‘Changes’ (a recurrent theme in my life right now)- I see the meaning of that song far differently than I did as a youngster.

      I guess we’re reaching the stage when so many of those voices are giving us their last work. It’s even more imperative that we take heed and keep their stories alive. Hoping the next generations see their value- even if only through those that they have influenced (the number of people I’ve seen/heard talking since yesterday who don’t know who he is? That’s a little discouraging…). As long as they’re listening…

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment. Think it’s time for a glass of something to be raised in his honour. xo

      • I think the shock for me, at that time, was that I had been raised on ballads, Irish folk songs, Jim Reeves and Engelbert Humperdink! Woolly jumpers, accordians, tin whistles and suits. Then along comes Bowie, Queen, Slade, Sweet, Rod Stewart, Wizzard and a cohort of strange. I don’t recollect listening to a lot of sixties music that wasn’t my parents’ taste. But the seventies slammed in with a crash. Two older brothers and I was all ELO, Genesis and Rod. Then The Eagles. It seemed to pour in from every quarter after that. It wasn’t till I met Frank that Bob Dylan, the Beatles and other sixties music started to impact too.
        My own kids know much of our music and I learn from them too. Passing it on. It’s a great tradition for so many areas. Not so hot for others.
        I would join you in a final salute but that dratted work thing keeps interfering with pleasure.
        Keep stoking the fires, Cole, your words, all our words, I hope, help with the changes. Nope, gonna have to do it……ch…ch…ch…changes. 🙂 Goodnight, missus. Have a good one.xo

      • colemining says:

        Right there with you. I was hardly listening to anything quite so out there in my young years- though all those guys were around when I was forming my musical tastes. My parents controlled the radio stations and record players until I hit double digits… And being the oldest, I was responsible for ‘setting’ my sisters’ musical tastes (at first, anyway- they’ve offered up some great suggestions in subsequent years).

        I got a lot of the Sixties stuff at summer camp- older counsellors- but the Bowies and the Ramones and the ELO… all that I somehow got to on my own.

        Have to reign in the saluting- I have that work thing in the morning, too (wretched work thing)… 🙂 Sleep well- back to fighting the good fight come morning. xo

      • Got there, got back, going to bed! Mentally working out the next holiday. Or early retirement. Hope yours was a good one. 🙂 x

      • colemining says:

        I could do with a holiday right about now… ah well. It’ll be summertime soon enough. xo

  2. He was a magical gift from the universe,and you have given him a loving tribute.

  3. I was hoping for, even expecting this from you, and I wasn’t disappointed!! I totally agree with you — I never expected Bowie to die, or at least not so young. With his parting song, he helped us learn how to die, just as he taught us how to live. I will always love him.

    • colemining says:

      Glad to know I’m predictable, Booksy 😉 And happy you weren’t disappointed. I’m still reeling- and having trouble listening to him, tbh. Had the iPod on shuffle on the TTC this aft- and had to check myself when ‘Ashes to Ashes’ popped up. I think we’ll be learning more about all the things he taught us as time keeps on passing.

      Thank you for stopping by- and for your comment. Our love of him keeps the best of who he was alive. xo

  4. bethbyrnes says:

    I think you identified the seminal impact he has on my life Cole, and that is, he was the first person who seemed to deliberately disguise his gender and not care that you didn’t know what it was. I of course loved the movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, but I think I watched it in fascination because I couldn’t ‘peg’ Bowie. He was just indescribable, uncategorical, like a new colour in the rainbow — hard to really see, harder to understand. I loved his voice, if not all of his music. I find that recent music video with him in a hospital bed, masked to be prophetic but now realise it was a message to his fan’s that we must let go.

    I hope we can save our species and our planet. I am not as sure as I once was. It seems like we are soiling everything just a bit too much. David was the lotus that springs from the mud of humanity — we are still so far behind him. I will try not to cry, but I did almost, the day he passed away. I think I was crying for myself, more than anything.

    • colemining says:

      All of us have experienced a major loss- whether we know it or not. You’re absolutely right (per usual)- he wouldn’t let himself be ‘pegged’- didn’t care if people couldn’t slot him into a category with which THEY were comfortable. That’s a lesson we need to learn even more now than then.

      While some of his music was less accessible (and less immediately loved), I certainly appreciate everything he did- and can see the wonder and the innovation, whether or not it directly appealed to my own, personal aesthetic.

      While we may be far behind him, he provides us with a goal to which we should be aiming. His humanity is a model worth emulating. Letting go is hard- and I’m not sure that we need to, in this case. Not completely. He left us with a body of work that we should use to continue our own evolution. Perhaps if we pay enough attention, some of us might come close to being the human that he was.

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment. xo

  5. yakinamac says:

    It’s a strange thing to grieve for someone you’ve never met, but who you know in some indefinable way through their art. You’ve expressed it beautifully – I found myself with tears rolling down my cheeks as I read. Thank you for sharing your response to the life and death of a remarkable man.

    • colemining says:

      I suppose it is strange- but made less so by the facts that he loomed so large as I was growing up and that my respect for him- and his art- are so very real and honest.

      I’m watching a retrospective of interviews, videos and documentaries on MuchMusic (which has decided to play actual music today- as opposed to the teen programming that has become the norm) and the tears keep on coming. It’s still not computing that he’s gone.

      Many thanks for your visit, and congratulations, once again, on the publication of your novel!

  6. ChgoJohn says:

    A wonderful, thoughtful tribute, Cole. I’ve never felt the loss of a celebrity, for lack of a better word, so deeply. I was just about to go to bed when I saw a report from CNN that he had passed. I spent the next hour in bed. in the dark, recalling his music and what he had meant to me. I was lucky enough to be there when Ziggy played guitar. To be mesmerized when, during his Diamond Dogs Tour, he floated in a cherry picker-like seat right over our heads, singing “Space Oddity”. He almost brought the house down each time he sang “Panic in Detroit” in my old hometown. There were countless nights where his was the only music playing on my turntable, then 8 track, and then cassettes. My iTunes library today is replete with oft-played Bowie playlists. I wish I could remember where I read — and I’m paraphrasing — that in a world where some are considered stars, David Bowie is a constellation. Indeed.

    • colemining says:

      Oh John, what wonderful memories you must have of some amazing shows! I was only ‘aware’ from ‘Serious Moonlight’ onward, but I count myself lucky that I got to see the man (and myth) in person. Between the greatgreat loss of David, and now Glenn Frey, my iPod is seeing a whole lot of retro-tastic music.

      David was our greatest constellation, to be sure. Lovely thought- and indisputably true.

      Thank you for the visit- and the wonderful comment. xo

  7. reocochran says:

    Thanks for this lovely tribute and several new facts I had not known. I cannot listen to Lazarus yet. My brother said I will weep for those musicians all who inspire us, stretch our imagination and allow our hearts and minds to expand. Thanks, Cole. ♡

    • colemining says:

      Thank YOU for the visit- and the comment. I am still weeping, but your brother has the right of it- we will weep for them as we thank them- endlessly- for all that they gave us. Their music will keep us inspired for years to come. xo

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