David Bowie passed away this week. The news came as a surprise, leaving most of us suckerpunched going into Monday morning meetings.
The day’s internet discussion was almost exclusively dedicated to the remembrance of Bowie, and as sad as the news was, I couldn’t help but ride an overwhelming sense of hope and optimism into the end of that day.
There were a couple things that stood out to me about Monday.
The big news publications put out their standard obits. They summarized Bowie’s reach and lasting legacy. These are the types of eulogies we’re used to receiving from the media: solemn pedestals of achievement and remembrance.
But the internet has enabled memoriam by the masses, and so in addition to these formal obits from the mainstream media, we were treated to the memories of listeners, fans, and personal friends of Bowie.
Bowie on stage
Bowie off stage
Bowie not Bueller.
One of my favorite things of the past week has been reading through blogs and publications, and finding variants of the following headline: “outside of his music, Bowie was a master of X.” Every clique identified Bowie as one of their own.
There were the literary and fashion circles lauding Bowie for a wide-reaching passion for the arts that extended beyond music.
And of course, it was inevitable that the tech community, too, would claim Bowie as their own.
But my favorite headline of the week came from Wall Street:
As I mentioned before, Bowie’s passing was a shock. Not just because his illness was kept out of the news (though that was certainly part of it,) but because of what Bowie meant to society. In his trajectory, he transcended from normal guy to musician to fashion icon, and then into this larger idea of androgyny and originality. And coolness. All of this became part of the idea of Bowie, part of Bowieness.
If I was to sum up Bowieness in a single statement it would be this:
Being yourself is devastatingly cool.
Within any other context, that statement would seem trite and cliche. But not with Bowie.
The movie Labryinth does a good job of illustrating Bowieness.
Whenever I think of Labryinth, I imagine a scene in which Bowie sits in his agent’s office, effortlessly composed, fingers together in a delicate but firm arch under his jawline, listening to the pitch. “98% of the characters will be played by puppets. You will be the goblin king. The king of the puppets. You wear leather and tights. An albino doo and a codpiece. And a puffy shirt. The target audience is kids from 9 - 17, and fantasy-genre enthusiasts of all ages.”
Bowie takes a moment to himself.
His agent fidgets, thinking to himself, "will he go for it?"
Bowie looks up. “Cool.”
And, suddenly, Labryinth is cool. Labryinth has always been cool. It will always be cool.
That is Bowieness.