DAVID BOWIE 1947-2016

1969: It is summer, July to be exact, that magical season of sweet green grass, warm sunshine, endless hours of play, no school. Yet I am inside, crouched next to our ashy beige TV console, tuning in the solitary rock station on the FM band that I could receive in my rural area. My cheek is so close to the speaker that I feel the scratch of the tweedy fabric. The song that I am listening to is "Space Oddity," by David Bowie. The lines of reality blur in my mind between the story in the lyrics and the ubiquitous, surreal TV coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing -- "Can you hear me Major Tom, can you hear me Major Tom, can you hear me Major Tom?" -- and wait with a strange and awful nervousness to hear of his rescue and reunion with his wife, whom he loves very much. I know it's just a song...or is it? I'm compelled to listen to it each time I hear it played, which was only a handful of times that I recall, hoping there was something, anything Major Tom could do to return to Earth. I am seven years old.

1972: I come to the conclusion as a entirely sheltered 10-yr.-old that I don't trust this Bowie person. All the makeup, the provocative, precious interviews that I would read in the rock mags of the day, the construction of the Ziggy Stardust persona and the guy wearing the dress before that, seems phony to me, inorganic, disposable, crass. Not to mention all the sexual overtones; I wasn't comfortable with anything there at 10, especially sexuality that was confusing and fluid and strange to me. Was there nothing this guy wouldn't do to become famous? And despite all that, I absolutely love the song "Suffragette City," even oblivious to what "Wham bam thank you ma'am" means.

1973: I am shocked and thrilled at the release of "Pin Ups" with cover versions of all my favorite bands, including -- oh my god! -- "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" by the Kinks. OK, Bowie, you are in my good graces now, buddy. Bonus points for having Twiggy on the album cover with you.

1975: It is the early fall, and I am already blackened in mood by the chill in the air and the return to junior high school. I am kneeling on my bed, staring at my GE flip-numbers alarm clock-radio sitting on top of my headboard. My favorite Milwaukee AM radio station, WOKY, is about to premiere the new song by David Bowie and John Lennon, and I am ready. When the squawky funk of the guitar kicks in, I roll my eyes to the gray sky outside my window...ugh, they did a disco song! My deep love of Lennon keeps me listening closely to hear his voice, and I begrudgingly note the stellar production. As the lowest note of the descending "Fame fame fame fame fame fame fame..." phrase finishes, I know this is what will make it a #1 song. At 13 years old, I think I know everything, but in this prediction, I am right. I buy the single. Later, I fall in love with "Golden Years." "Doing all right but you gotta get smart," emphasis heard, and understood.

1977: I see the "Heroes" video, all solitary, twisted, indirect, too direct. I listen, and start to tear up, overwhelmed with emotion. It remains a deeply important song to me throughout my life.

1980: Major Tom makes another appearance in "Ashes To Ashes" and I simultaneously offer a wink at Bowie's cannibalization of his own catalog, and a virtual embrace to our lost in space friend, lost in a wholly different somber space now. "I never done good things, I never done bad things, I never did anything out of the blue" reminded this 18-yr.-old to do something, or at least try. I still try.

1983: Bowie set out to conquer the airwaves and MTV with the "Let's Dance" album, which he did. Every song on that record reminds me of driving through the dusty desert heat of Phoenix, Arizona in a Corvair convertible with my boombox balanced in the back seat, a strange land and strange time for me, first place I moved to, might as well have been the moon. "Oh baby, just you shut your mouth." Later on, I saw him play in a big arena there, and all I remember is yellow suit, yellow hair, ohmygoditisdavidbowie.

David Bowie had won me over. I needed to grow up, needed time with his music, needed to understand more about art and its infinite interpretations, and about life itself to be able to fully appreciate that, unquestionably, David Bowie was a genius, no qualifications needed. There's really no one to touch him.

Last Friday night, now 53 years old, I went to a 69th birthday celebration at Chop Suey in Seattle for Bowie, which was a night of his music played by consummate fans DJs Victoria and Jack, and performances by local musicians Dejha (Blackie / The Union Gospel),TV Coahran (Gazebos), Ryan Weadon, Kate Moore, and Adé. With glitter-swiped Ziggy-heads dangling like stars overhead, the crowd danced and sang along with all the lyrics, clapped and drank and hugged, and smiled the biggest smiles you've ever seen. There were spangles and shiny and suits and makeup flourishes, oh such beauty! Oh such joy!

I said to my friend Kitty, "Man, I'd sure like one of those Bowie heads. But I suppose the club could use them next year for his 70th birthday, right?

Not one of us could have known that he would die only two days later after an 18-month-long battle with cancer, and only two days after his final album, Blackstar, was released.

That night was a gift, in retrospect, to perhaps be able to deal better with his loss. Seeing the happiness that his music brought to the 600+ people jammed into the club, young and old, straight and gay and gender-neutral and gender-fluid, freaks and geeks, was a chance to see the power of music and art in action, through people. It reminds me that while we mourn his passing at far too young an age and with so much more to share, he is by no means gone. His impact was profound, and he will remain here with us in that way, brave and beautiful to the end.