The writer, with her mini Bowie and husband.

David Bowie

Photo by The writer, with her mini Bowie and husband.

How Will We Teach Our Kids About Bowie?


A few days after the icon’s death, an eerily poignant holiday card has this mom reflecting on the loss while still feeling hopeful about his impact on the future.



Our New Year’s card this year was a postcard featuring a toddler Ziggy Stardust. On the front was my son in his Halloween costume—a glittery recreation of the Bowie outfit, hand-sewn by my mom from some fabric scavenged off Etsy. He was wearing red rainboots to mimic Bowie’s platforms, and had the standard pink lightning bolt darting above his shy little smile. On either side of him are my husband and I attempting to look like the Spiders from Mars in gold sequined shirts. Though we actually look a little more Siegfried and Roy.

The back of the card read: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the New Year! Happy 2016!

At the time, my husband cringed at my corniness. But now, staring at the card, it feels less corny and more cryptic. We had no idea that 10 days into the new year, Ziggy Stardust would return to his home planet for good.

I was never a Bowie fanatic. I saw him onstage only once—when he walked out and did a surprise duet with Arcade Fire back in 2005. Though my excitement was so intense, my friend still makes fun of me for my repeated refrain of, “IT’S DAVID FUCKING BOWIE OH MY GOD IT’S DAVID FUCKING BOWIE!”

But I loved him the way so many of us loved him, with his music as the backing track to snatches of my life. Not necessarily to extraordinary, transformative moments, but just the dumb stuff you’re doing while listening to amazing music. Like being stoned out of my mind in the California redwoods, blaring “Space Oddity” and feeling certain those monster trees were about to blast out of the earth, carrying my friend and I into the night sky still clutching our bags of Oreos.

Or watching my future husband dance naked around his dirty, bachelor pad apartment to “Suffragette City,” his pale body slinking over computer cords and pizza boxes.

Or myself in my own dirty, East Village apartment, blasting “Let’s Dance” as I pulled on a red mini skirt so short I couldn’t really bend over without revealing my ovaries. Twirling on the scuffed linoleum, I shout-sang out to First Avenue as it churned itself into its nightly party.   

Talking about how music makes you feel requires a very slippery surgery and articulation of emotions—the way songs creep into our bones, and fill us with a longing that is so terrible and so wonderful and so terrible again, and Hey let’s just put this song on repeat, shall we? Why? I don’t know why. I just know I’ve never listened to “Under Pressure” without the hair on my arms standing up when Bowie croons, “’Cause love’s such an old fashioned wooord…”

The day of his death I had trouble understanding the depth of my sadness. I felt like a woebegone teenager, watching old video clips of him and staring at photos. Why was I so terribly sad? I didn’t know the man, for god’s sake. And yet looking at the Internet I clearly was not alone in my melancholy. A friend texted me and said she wasn’t sure if she felt crazy because she had water in her ear from a morning swim, or just crazy because she couldn’t explain why she felt such a gaping loss over the Goblin King.

My husband and I lay in bed that night and stared at the ceiling. “There was simply no one else like him, right? And there likely won’t be again in our lifetimes,” I said. “Do you think?”

“No,” he said. “There won’t.”

Which feels a little ridiculous, but also a little true. The idea of Bowie felt like a call—a command—to wake up and be alive. To actually seek out beauty and search for answers. In today’s world, that’s beginning to feel more and more like a romantic and old-fashioned notion. Today we search our phones for answers. We scroll our screens instead of looking into each other’s eyes. ’Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word…

He was just a man, yes. And watching the descriptions of him as a “God” over and over reminded me of the hilarious Onion article about him rustling up a lasagna dinner while at home with Iman. The article is riffing on the fact that his life was so extraordinary, but really, I’m sure there were nights when Bowie did just rustle up pasta with his wife. He pulled on his white suit pants one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. Though even now, this is somehow hard to believe. When I saw the photos of him walking his daughter to school wearing a hat and oversized sweatshirt, the pictures looked so tender and sweet. And so very strange. Like a unicorn trying to hide its horn in a Mets cap.

My son’s Ziggy costume is still hanging in his closet. I wonder what he’ll make of it one day, when he’s old enough to understand who David Bowie really was, and why I squeezed him into those shiny pants to go trick or treating. Will I be able to explain to him who this man was? And why people were so very sad when he was gone? In the midst of my melancholy the other night, I tried to put him to bed with a lullaby rendition of  “Life on Mars” that I found on iTunes. He patiently listened to the opening bars then patted my hand. “All done, Mama. Now play ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’”

He may never like Bowie’s music. By the time he’s a teen it may sound to him like Buddy Holly once did to me—a bunch of fun, but swoony old timeyness from a man long ago. My son is going to grow up in a different world. And we are going to grow older alongside him. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

He does like to dance to “Under Pressure.” Though I’d probably check beneath his skin for wires and metal bolts if he didn’t. But he may never blast “Starman” on his way to high school, windows down, sky ahead endless and blue.

I just hope I raise him in such a way that he likes what Bowie symbolized: the beauty in the bizarre. The fearless quest to be yourself. And the understanding that sequins, when worn right, can be a truly glorious thing.

 

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