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David Bowie tribute and a word about who is allowed to grieve for dead rock stars

“Ashes to Ashes” was the first song I thought to post as a David Bowie tribute this morning, then thought better of it and aimed for a 1979 live performance of “Man Who Stole The World,” though many of my beloved fellow GenXers probably like, or at least know, the Nirvana cover from MTV Unplugged better. But, this song in the video below, “Lazarus” from his latest album released on his birthday just days before his death, is haunting with a certain transcendent wisdom and awareness about his own life and death, clearest of all in the video.

When musical artists die, we tend to remember them with songs that convey what their music meant to us like songs that served as soundtrack for an important era of our lives, or that underscored a special or unforgettable moment. But in the case of Bowie, it feels right to post a tribute of new work with which we’ve yet to know long enough to fully connect, and which sounds like a glimpse into the moment he connects to his own finality. And damn if he didn’t give and leave dazzling lessons about living and be-ing beyond limits while he was here. Bowie being Bowie, it’s tempting to flirt with the idea that he orchestrated this as he did so many things and in his ability to completely reimagine the way thigns are are done.

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The first post I saw about Bowie’s death was a tweet reminding social media users that no one is entitled to grieve Bowie save for his friends and family. Which, indeed, only our friends and family will grieve the truly-known essence of any of us in the end if we do it right, but I’d also argue that mourning is limitless, and even a small down-hearted moment for someone lost doesn’t take away from the profound grief sure to be experienced by close friends and family when we go. Grief, I mean to say, isn’t competitive.

Indeed, I’d make a counteroffer here that, in fact, anyone who has connected with music or art or writing ever is entitled to grieve the artist who created it, and that their gestures and thoughts of mourning in fact only expand the amount of fucks given over the fallen. There are, after all, different kinds of grief. The largest distinction being, of course, that obviously friends and family will grieve a spouse, parent, friend, and human known closely to them deeply, personally and brokenheartedly and as a long, possibly grueling process and perhaps will never grieve the person the artist, as their personal relationship will have transcended the persona of artist long ago. The rest of us will simply grieve the art, the artist and, perhaps, his or her persona, if known. It’s a lesser thing, to be sure, but it’s grief and it’s perfectly ok to mourn an artist never met and only known through work. Hell, it’s perfectly ok to grieve over anything our hearts prompt us to mourn. Certainly it’s out of line to suggest grief is all-or-nothing, but it’s also out of line to suggest it’s only appropriate to grieve people we personally know, and in fact, suggesting as much pulls us further and further away from our own human-ness. There’s no cap on emotion, no set amount of of it to share and dole out; in fact, a whole world could mourn a dead person if the personal lived in such a way, and wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that speak to the awe-some character and soulfulness and creativity of a person if the entire world mourned for him or her?

When art of any kind is put out into the world, there is always the chance it might resonate with another human being, or in Bowie’s case, millions of human beings. And what is resonant is the essence of the art itself, this moment when an artist of some medium channeled an emotion or event or sense of something so much larger than the self and captured it there on the page or canvass or in a recording and there is a certain personal-ness to that sharing. Just as is the case with the song above, in which we suddenly become painfully aware he was grappling with his own mortality and shows us the words and notes that came tumbling forth as a result and by which he perhaps processed the realization himself.

So, when someone connects to a piece of art they, in turn, connect to the artist with the knowledge that some piece of his or her being is connected to the work as well, and that’s real, valid and visceral and some part of us holds that work in gratitude to its creator, even if it is in relation to ourselves.

So, while I was never in the same room as Bowie, I hold certain songs in gratitude to him that I connect to moments and eras in my life, and am sad to see such a dazzlingly original, seemingly-fearless and larger-than-life being leave this earth and leave us behind, while grateful he shared as much as he did while here, the unmatched example of one who challenged what we think of as creative limits to be ever-larger and more expansive.

Farewell and safe passage, Starman.