My life with David Bowie. I say this knowing full well that I do not personally know Bowie, but in very odd ways I feel like I do. Especially in my art life, in how I think and view things creatively.
Since David Bowie passed away, I’ve had a lot to think about this week. About what he really meant to me, what his death means to me. When first hearing the news of his death, I was shocked and very upset, quickly brought to tears. This strangely surprised me, feeling this way, since I didn’t know the man. Immediately I thought of friends who I’ve conversed with about Bowie, like Vertigo editor Shelly Bond. I still have the Bowie postcards she sent me, one featuring him in that gloriously amazing turquoise suit. I remembered the good times of seeing him in concert, fortunately twice. One time on his Sound and Vision tour, the other when he toured with Nine Inch Nails. Both shows were outstanding, no surprise there. But it wasn’t really those memories that were affecting me. It was something more. I’ve needed the past week to try to understand where these deep emotions were coming from when my wife and I heard the news.
I’ve always loved his music. I have fond memories walking to school alone singing the songs off Let’s Dance to myself. That was the album I first discovered David Bowie, then the Tonight album with the fantastic Loving The Alien on it. I went backwards into his catalogue from there, exploring all of his treasures. And was deeply captured by just how much he had transformed from his early days to the Bowie I first met. His ever changing personas always seemed to meld perfectly with the music he was creating at the time, as if the music and lyrics themselves were the cause of these personas as he moved through his artistic life.
This is where I think I’m connecting with him. The idea of change. He always was presenting different aspects of himself, he allowed his personality to grow and morph, and did so in creative ways that became metaphor for all of the changes in our own lives over time. He just showed this more boldly, profoundly making life transformations into art.
The thing I learned from this is that it’s okay to change, that it’s okay to not remain the same thing all of the time, to be fluid when you can be. I think subconsciously I related to this, and as I grew into my own creative discovery through my chosen medium of comics, I was able to embrace this concept easily. I was able to see and understand the reasons why someone like Frank Miller would alter his style from project to project, sometimes in very dramatic ways; creating a visual trajectory that is his but also quite varied. Or in the way Alan Moore would be able to defy genre expectations, never being satisfied by staying in one genre or adhering to whatever genre’s rules, and exploring each attempt in the fullest way possible. Or in the way Neil Gaiman wrote transformative narratives all throughout Sandman, each having their own distinct aspect, but somehow still remaining firmly within the project’s parameters, giving us a grand operatic epic.
It’s this idea of transformation being something to be embraced, to not sit still, is where I think the real learning comes from. Not just creatively, but in life. Growing up listening to Bowie, seeing Bowie’s ideas, while being engaged with comics, seeing leaps of transformation from certain comics creators of the time, while being entrenched in Kirby, and Moebius, and Golden, to name a few, taught me to reach for new vistas. This has had much bigger impact on my work over my career than I first was realizing.
But awhile ago I came to understand for my own creative life to grow it had also needed to change, or better termed: allowed to be ever changing. The result is some of the things I’ve done. This explains a little bit of why I style manipulate so much. Doing so pulls out different aspects of story, emotion, and bits of myself, and amplifies different qualities within each. Applying transformation as an idea as I move from scene to scene creatively allows the work to be more alive, it breathes, and moves, and quite often in surprising ways even to myself. Things will happen in the work as I do it that can be a revelation to me.
So I can relate to David Bowie’s ever changing creative self, embracing this in himself must’ve allowed him to realize so many things, discovering so many aspects of his inner life. I imagine it must’ve been a constant revelatory experience. Showing us this all the way to the end, even in the way he appeared to find acceptance in his death and used facing this last change to again transform creatively, giving us one last burst of beauty in the album Blackstar. I think there are more lessons to learn there for our own lives, and to learn creatively by how he chose to handle this most artful departure from the world.
This all has given me pause mentally, as I am currently in the middle of making very large changes in my life, personally and creatively and literally moving into new territory. So, thinking about embracing such big change rather than feeling trepidation about it, I have to say, is still something I grasp at. But the poignancy in how David Bowie handled his biggest personal change shines a light on all of it, and firmly places things into a good perspective. The logistical and creative decisions before me are daunting, but I have to accept this is the path and just run. So, Bowie’s death teaches me, just as he did in life.
I’m very certain if I hadn’t been a lifelong fan of David Bowie and his music that I would not be the same artist or person I am today, and probably a much weaker one.
“Time may change me
But you can’t trace time”
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