In 1972, a wise man sang, “Let all the children boogie.”
These very wise words were uttered by the one and only David Bowie. And I for one, completely agree.
That being said, I was not alive when Mr. Bowie was in his prime. I completely and totally missed it. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter- I found him eventually, and that is that.
In the future, some teenager (like me) is going to discover David Bowie, and they are going to research every inch and every aspect of his life, like I did when I was 12. Reading his story now, it seems almost like a happy tragedy- this is a man who was deemed controversial throughout his entire career and who was never quite understood. On the other hand, Bowie is very well respected and hailed as a huge impact to fashion and music.
People didn’t understand David Bowie when he made music throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was weird. He wore bright makeup and oddly patterned pin-up suits. He wore earrings and dyed his hair a million different colors. He sang about whatever he wanted to- whether that be space or dancing or rebels. He blurred the lines of gender and sexuality. He was a hero and a villain and everything in between.
And that scared people. A lot. The idea of a man wearing makeup or being bisexual was the worst thing that could have crossed their minds.
But David Bowie kept going. He kept touring and making music and wearing outrageous clothes. Maybe he just didn’t care what people thought of him. Or maybe he knew that there were people in the world who connected to him, who understood him and accepted him.
Maybe he knew there were kids out there like me.
The first David Bowie song I ever heard was “Heroes” during my second year of middle school. I was 12 years old, obsessed with music and reading books. And “Heroes”- the six minute version that feels like goes on forever and ever- felt life changing.
“Heroes” was a song I would end up listening to a lot. I listened to it when I was with my friends, when I was scared of the future but there was nothing I could do about it. Bowie’s voice is so desperate in the last chorus that it turns this seemingly happy song into something else entirely. It’s sad but also hopeful- imagining a doomed future between a group of people.
I felt completely doomed, because at that point, high school was three months away and I was being dragged into adolescence by everyone. My friends wouldn’t stop talking about high school- what it’d be like, who would be there, what we were going to do when we got there.
I had no idea.
But the one thing I was absolutely sure of, more than anything, was that I’d have David Bowie. I would have “Heroes” when I walked into high school for the first time and left everything behind.
I was right about that. David Bowie never left my side- I kept his mentality buried deep in my mind every second of every day of the new year. He had this mentality that basically said this: you have to do what you feel is right- regardless of what other people say. The opinions of others, he felt, was not important. I started high school when I was 13- I was surrounded by kids so much older than me, and their opinions felt sharp. I figured if I kept that David Bowie mindset, everything would be alright.
And that mentality worked. I learned that you can’t do things based on the opinions of others. At the same time, with that mentality, I learned to respect others in a way that was entirely different from before.
I think if there was one Bowie lyric that helped me the most when starting high school, it would have to be, “We’re nothing, and nothing will help us.” Because in middle school we all felt like we were nothing. We all felt insignificant and small and if we just shut our mouths and didn’t say anything, hopefully no one would notice us. And really, no one did.
But I’m happy to look around now, in high school, and see my friends value themselves. Because we are something. We are here, and we matter.
Looking back on it, starting high school would’ve seemed absolutely impossible without Bowie and that song. “Heroes” captured every feeling possible during that time. Because when Bowie said, “We can be heroes, just for one day,” it felt like he was talking to us. It was his mindset that helped me learn about myself and talk to people and be okay again. It was his mindset that got me through my freshman year of high school- when nothing was right, but somehow everything was.
Freshman year went by in a simple blur. There wasn’t anything too outrageous like in the movies. There was nothing but growth, and close friendships. I think that was all I ever needed.
A lot has changed since I heard “Heroes” for the first time. Now, I am fifteen and older, not as timid as I was when I was twelve. “Heroes” sounds different to me now. Because when Bowie told us we could be heroes in middle school, we didn’t believe it. But when he told us again in high school, we knew he was right.
David Bowie means so much to me because he made me feel okay about who I was. If David Bowie could paint his face a thousand different colors and wear whatever he wanted, then I could get through a day of school. If David Bowie could sing about starmen and space oddities, then I could get through writing an essay. If David Bowie could do and be anything, then I could too. He was fearless, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.
I’m not fearless-not yet anyways. My knees still buckle when I have to talk to someone new. My heart pounds for what feels like ten minutes after I answer a question in class. But I’m dealing with it- and doesn’t that count for something? I owe so much of that long continuous journey to David Bowie.
You only really know what someone means to you after they’re gone.
After I heard about David Bowie’s passing, I sat down with a group of new friends and listened to his songs, all the new and the old and everything I could think of. To be completely honest, I had a sickly feeling in my stomach- a little knot that wouldn’t go away. Just two months ago, I did a school project on him and his album Diamond Dogs. Now, this icon, someone who led me through every adversity and challenge in my life, is gone. And I don’t really know what to do.
All I know is that I would’ve had a much harder time without Bowie, without him destroying every boundary and every rule that exists. In a way, he paved the road for me. He gave me the directions- all I had to do was follow them.
I guess it’s time for me to start paving my own way again.
But that doesn’t mean I have to forget about Mr. Bowie. How could I ever? Because when I think about David Bowie now, I see him on stage with his band, playing “Starman” on his deep blue guitar as he wraps his arm around Mick Ronson. He’s wearing a patterned suit, and he sings that song like he owns the whole world.
And that’s how he’ll remain, floating in the corners of the back of my mind, forever.