Friday, January 22, 2016

Ground Control to Major Tom... Stepping Through One Last Door

I can't lay any legally defensible claim to being a huge fan of David Bowie's music. Though several of his songs as well as the man himself have come to thoroughly permeate pop culture to the point where it's virtually impossible for anyone in the civilized world not to recognize either the man or some part of his vast repertoire of work, I can't claim that I felt the same touch of transcendence that I have with other artists in various media. And yet when I heard of his death earlier this month on January 10, I couldn't help but feel that the world had suffered some immeasurable loss.

My recollections of David Bowie are centred more around his film roles, most notably as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth and as Nicola Tesla in The Prestige. I defy you to find a better song from a children's movie than "Magic Dance," or at least a more catchy or quotable one. It's been scientifically proven to rest at the very pinnacle of artistic achievement of the '80s, which puts it in the running for greatest of all time. His turn in The Prestige really blew me away, not only by how great his performance was, but also that I had no goddamn idea it was him the first time I watched it. People often talk about actors "being chameleons" and disappearing into their roles, and for anybody looking for a perfect example to advocate or to emulate, they need look no further.

Of course, his filmography is much longer than that. Other roles that come immediately to mind were Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ and, of course, Lord Royal Highness in that episode of Spongebob Squarepants where they discover the lost city of Atlantis and Patrick does something stupid. Oh, and making bizarre music videos with the doppleganger you never knew he had in Tilda Swinton.

Perhaps the movie that best encapsulates my memory of David Bowie is The Man Who Fell to Earth. To be fair, I haven't actually seen the movie, even though it's been on my list for a while. But the title alone seems to sum it up nicely. There always seemed to me to be something otherworldly about David Bowie (especially when making music videos with Tilda Swinton). Perhaps it's why his death caught me so off guard. Humans die, but he clearly wasn't one of those. He was something else. Something celestial. Mortality was a young species' game; it always seemed to me that he was somehow beyond it. Like many others, I'd taken for granted the fact that so long as the world existed, there would be a Bowie.

And in the days following the news of his death, I can't help "Space Oddity" from popping up in my my mind's soundtrack with eerie regularity. Thought not the biggest fan of his, that song in particular always stuck with me. There was always something haunting about it. A man, a pioneer, isolated, cut off from the entire world, scared, beginning to explore the vast expanses of the universe. Taking those first steps. Then he loses all communication with the people he left behind, and it's unclear (to me at least) whether he's lost in the far reaches of the cosmos or he's begun a journey that few men would even dare to dream of. I always got the feeling that somewhere in the ambiguity between Tragedy and Adventure, there was still a sadness, for no matter what the outcome, it's clear that Major Tom was forced to say goodbye to his past and everything and everyone he loved. Maybe it was an ending. Maybe it was a beginning. Or maybe, as is so often the case, it was a combination of both.

Ashes to ashes. Stardust to Stardust.


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