(Ask Sami) Blanking on Bowie Blues

Am I the only one who has no interest in David Bowie’s passing away?

Normal Heights

Short answer: I don’t know.

In the rows and piles of my father’s records, sometime in high school, I found Bowie. Maybe because of the many space references (and I was an alien princess), I instantly and always loved his music. I loved him among other rockstars, some dead. some living. I had no context, knew the music only by the words on the cover and its image. To this day, I prefer to listen to albums (and hand-picked playlists: the modern mixtape) over “discover new” or “radio” algorithms.

I did not share my peers’ fluency in the lives of their music favorites — the factoids of band member names, origins, relationships, birthdays. I have no mind for trivia, and cared to memorize only the lyrics by playing albums on repeat. I imagined I could discover traces of the artists in the order they arranged their songs, and listened for an arc of plot, a climax, a theme. To this day, I barely grasp the names of all the members of my favorite band — such a feat is not in my programming. It’s not how I enjoy music.

So, within this context (and being an alien with a poor grasp on reality), I assumed David Bowie was already dead. I mean, Kurt Cobain was dead and his band was my first rock favorite (circa 7th-9th grade). I think I discovered Bowie was still alive not sooner than three years ago. He has already been a Lazarus. Losing him again feels not piercing, but familiar.

There’s also my disinterest in celebrity culture. I enjoy the artwork, the content, the entertainment created by these cultural paragons — but they are not my friends. I’ve never spoken to them. I don’t want to simulate familiarity by learning about their breakups, their pet interests, their lineage. I’m interested in their stories insofar as they relate to their art, and no more.

So, while I understand a desire to be part of a greater narrative — to follow closely specific exalted beings and share emotional paths with strangers, acquaintances, the whole fucking world — my participation is hesitant. I can (and do) cry over tragedies, but he died of a terminal illness surrounded by loved ones at age 69. I don’t begrudge those that held him closer to their hearts a right to their own grief, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get it. I think that’s okay.

I see Bowie’s passing as a time for his significance to resurface in the common conversation. (I love this.) I re-listened to all of Station to Station and Ziggy Stardust and the tracks Space Oddity, Heroes, and Rebel Rebel (which my friend John sang to me on my birthday last month on a karaoke night at Redwing). I’ve enjoyed this occasion to revisit Bowie. I can celebrate, reflect, but I haven’t shed a tear. And I think that’s okay.

You appear to be even further removed than I am.

That’s probably okay.


 

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My Older Brother’s Birthday

Most don’t know about my older brother, Ian. I don’t often talk about him, and not even until recently did I think I had the right. Though I think of him from time to time and though I know he will always be a part of me, I am timid when it comes to saying his name. It has taken me the better part of my 25 years to claim the grief of losing someone I have never met.

Today would have been his 27th birthday. I didn’t expect this, but tears crawled up to strangle my throat when I wrote this. Each June 13th does not get easier, it gets harder as I catch up after years spent thinking his death was not a shadow that fell on me.

It becomes clearer that his ghost has informed so many parts of me. Losing their first, at 4 weeks, changed the way my parents held me as a baby. I think that grief, too, is carried tenderly like something so small and delicate and breakable even though it is what crushes us.

This year will be the first I spend without my parents on Ian’s birthday. My younger brother has already done this. For years I’ve watched my family plant trees and flowers in his remembrance, and I’ve carried small handfuls of soil and patted them down. This year I’m in Michigan, and all day I will be gazing at the ground looking for a place to plant a seed. Perhaps I’ll find a grassy patch by a house I do not know, opened to me by borrowed family, people I’ve never met who may be welcoming or may be cold — I’m never quite sure what Katelyn’s extended family thinks of me, thinks of us, thinks of what we represent, though so far they have said nothing. Perhaps I will sneak away to the shade of some tree and call my living brother.

I am motivated to write this because friends of mine are carrying their own griefs. I think I ought to say that mourning follows me just as it might follow them. Each grief is as different as the person or people who inspire it; I cannot measure the shape of my grief and hold it to anyone else’s and expect to pass along the same condolences that work for me. Yet I will nod at yours if you will nod at mine as we walk by each other in these familiar long corridors of pining, back and forth, back and forth, every year marked, every year counted, and remembered.

R.I.P. Ian

6-13-88 — 7-13-88