It feels a bit bandwagon-esque to talk about David Bowie today but I mean, it's what a lot of us are thinking about, whether we were huge fans or not, most of us have been aware of him for over 40 years in some fashion. It's a sea change sort of passing. Elvis, David Bowie, and I have the same birthday, which I know is meaningless, but it always meant something/inspired me in a way I can't really express regardless.
I don't know if it was that or coincidence but I was thinking about David Bowie this weekend, which is unusual for me, because I was honestly an armchair/greatest hits sort of fan. He wasn't hugely popular when I was a teen, he had a bit of a lull in the 90's, but even so my friends and I obsessed over him in Labyrinth and his other film roles. We instinctively knew he was a cool man, a unique artist, even if we weren't digging his current musical output.
I have fond memories of my aunt Martha taping his back catalog for me, along with The Beatles, when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and opening my ears up to a whole other world of music beyond my 80's pop fixations. Instinctively at that age I fell for his poppier ditties: Rebel Rebel, Fame, and Heroes were instantly appealing even to my untrained ears. I know the purist critiques will all emphasize his artistic daring and avante garde influence on music, which is as it should be, but I hope the fact that he was also simply a genius writer of popular rock isn't completely lost, because that is no small feat, either.
Anyway, the reason I was thinking about Bowie, and weirdly, life and death, this weekend, was after watching the Noah Baumbach film "While We're Young". There is a scene towards the end where they use a stripped back toy piano sounding version of the Bowie song Golden Years, which is instantly recognizable. It's probably one of his cheeriest, poppiest tunes, yet in the context of this film anyone familiar with it's deceptively murky lyrics can feel it convey the frustration of a 40 something couple who are feeling the passage of time creep up on them. But then, as it continues, it changes into something joyful, and you feel hope that they are actually entering their golden years.
And then it had the six degrees of separation thing of reminding me of Heath Ledger (Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger were a couple for awhile, and her tearful face in this film while they play that tune couldn't help but seem sort of...weirdly related (to me anyway!)), as it was also used so memorably in A Knight's Tale in the medieval dance hall scene. It's totally incongruous, yet it completely works, because it's David Bowie. You almost don't even bat an eyelid at the modern music - it's been done many times since then, but hadn't been done much before that I think. Heath Ledger is so young and vibrant in that scene, one of the few actors of his era who could gleefully do a dance scene convincingly and without irony - there is nothing but rare, free spirit on display. It's one of the weirdest movie moments for me in that I can watch it and it makes me happy and super sad all at once, and the Bowie track underlines it all perfectly with its simultaneous infectious tempo and sadly prescient lyrics.
I guess Ledger and Bowie were alike that way, they always seemed a bit too special for this world. Like many, I guess I took it for granted that Bowie was going to be around a bit longer: indefinitely, surely. He had that lovely trick of seeming immortal. Only it wasn't a trick, because I don't think there's any question he will stand the test of time.
"I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years
Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years"
Sorry this is a bit blurry, couldn't find a crystal clear version.