Jakob got out of bed around 5:40 am, shuffled into the living room, turned on his laptop, shuffled into the kitchen to top-up the not-very-empty bowls for some very noisy cats. Shuffled back to the laptop, checked emails, logged onto Instagram. He noticed a lot of people were posting pictures of David Bowie. Odd. Noticed one was hash-tagged with RIP. Well then.
Facebook confirmed the death of Bowie by way of a news feed half-full of shared stories from music blogs. Jakob returned to the bedroom and got dressed, wondered if he shouldn’t feel Bowie’s death more. As one who usually scoffs at the public outpouring of emotion for celebrity deaths on social media—most recently the reaction to the death of Lemmy Kilmister baffled him— he always thought he’d react differently when it came to Bowie. That is to say, he’d react the same way as everyone else. He expected sadness. So far, putting on one sock, and then the other, he suspected he was again going to be standing outside of the funeral.
Before leaving the house he checked Facebook again. Bowie was still dead and now people had begun to post more personal memorial notes about the singer. None resonated with Jakob, perhaps because they were of the same tone—some seemingly verbatim—as those he saw when Scott Weiland died a month earlier.
In the car on the way to the subway station, he thought he’d try out a tribute of his own. When his wife mentioned a dream had left her with a feeling of unease, he said, “It’s hard to navigate a world without Bowie.”
No, it didn’t ring true. Navigating the world today would be no different from yesterday or tomorrow.
“What?” His wife said.
“Oh, yeah. Bowie’s dead.”
“What? When did this happen?”
“This morning. Or last night, I guess.”
Over the course of the morning, the Facebook memorials became more frequent and longer. It seemed to Jakob a sort of game of one-upmanship was taking being played where people laid claim to being more spiritually connected-to and more inspired, impacted and influenced by Bowie than the next. Each post claimed they’d been uniquely guided by the patron saint of weirdos; blessed to live on Earth at the same time.
Jakob began to wonder if he was missing something. He was himself a misfit artist, but he didn’t believe he’d ever looked to Bowie as a direct inspiration. He’d never deny being a Bowie fan, though a relatively casual one.
“I’m more of a singles man,” he’d always smugly say when the subject of one of the man’s classic albums came up. Jakob believed very few of Bowie’s albums were no less than 60% filler, at a generous assessment.
This indifference could be due to being born a few months after Ziggy Stardust was released. He’d never known the world before Bowie. Bowie, and the pop culture world the gender-bending glam rocker had helped create, was always a given. Bowie was as ubiquitous as Nature, or simply a part of Nature. Jakob supposed that if you’d been a a pre-teen, or teenager, or even a young adult, when Bowie came on the scene, it really would’ve been a transformative experience. He’d have shone a spotlight on a whole new set of possibilities for how to live and what a rock star could and should be.
But for a ten-year-old Jakob, this path was revealed not by Bowie, but by Bowie’s glam and/or queer progeny: Boy George, Prince, The Eurythmics, Duran Duran, Bronski Beat, Dead or Alive, Dee Snider, Mötley Crüe. In the New Wave and Hair Metal era, a man wearing eye-shadow and blush just seemed perfectly normal, especially for a rock star. It was expected even. Bowie himself, circa 1983, was a relatively tame pop star, putting on his red shoes and singing the blues in a posh linen suit.
As he grew into his pre- and early-teens, Jakob would of course become aware of Bowie’s previous life as Ziggy and Major Tom and Aladdin Sane and the man who sold the world in a dress, but he never attached any more significance to these characters than he did to full make-up KISS or even The Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s costumes. Perhaps it was impossible to see Bowie for the entire forest of flamboyant rock stars he’d given seed to. To Jakob, Bowie’s significance was buried somewhere under his own monumental influence.
By mid-afternoon Jakob had seen more Facebook testimonials by people he knew, and people he didn’t really know very well, and people who were strangers to him except on the Internet. None of them—he was pretty sure—knew Bowie personally, or had ever had the chance to meet him. Yet the tone of their tributes were as if a close mentor had died.
A mentor? Jakob tried that one on but still didn’t feel a sense of loss. He’d never thought of Bowie in that light, but supposed it could be true for some. He suspected that if he’d ever been inspired or influenced by Bowie, it was in the same way his environment, currently Toronto, influenced him. Foolish—or arrogant— to deny being influenced by your surroundings, but very much a subconscious influence. Perhaps that was the best way to think of Bowie, part of the cultural environment.
Yes, thought Jakob, an environmental factor. Bowie was always more of an abstract concept than a human being. Jakob decided he probably liked living in a world with Bowie in it rather than one without Bowie, but honestly it was “1986 David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth” (as Flight of the Conchords would say), not the real man he would miss.
As far as David Bowie the individual went, Jakob couldn’t think of a time when he’d ever aspired to be Bowie, or even be like Bowie. If he’d had an influence on a teenage Jakob at all, David Bowie firmly planted in Jakob’s mind the notion that Jakob wasn’t special enough; an insignificant peon, not just in the world of rock’n’roll, but in the world at large. Anyone aspiring to be on Bowie’s level had to be more than a little delusional, didn’t they? More often than not, they looked downright silly trying. Even Lou Reed in his Transformer era get-up was laughable. Bowie was too unique, too alien, too closed off to see as a role model—or even recognizable as a fellow human.
And that was it, Jakob thought. No matter how cool he thought Bowie had been, how intriguing an individual, how much he’d liked the songs, there was nothing relatable about Bowie. He didn’t reveal anything about himself in his music in the way a Lou Reed, or Joni Mitchell, or Leonard Cohen did. No Bowie song had ever impacted a him on a human level like Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” or Billy Bragg’s “A New England” had. If Bowie was a rock’n’roll oracle, there was no doorway to enter into his sanctum to learn something about yourself. He was a beguilingly closed book, offering the illusion of enlightenment in a shroud of glitter.
Sound and vision, signifying nothing.
Jakob decided it probably wasn’t a good day to give voice to any of these opinions and remained silent on Facebook.