David Bowie was a constant presence and challenge for me. Twister of reality, exposer of awe. A true creative revolutionary. I've always thought that an artist is at their best when they cause us to take pause and reflect on the world, seeing it in a new way as a result of their influence. Bowie was that artist. Any time I encountered his work I was always left mystified. I only saw him twice. Once on "The Glass Spider" tour in 1987, with Peter Frampton on guitar, a tour that saw him onstage roving over a multi-layered detailed set which was criticized as self-indulgent at the time by reviewers. For me, that set served as a metaphor for the many ways he existed in my mind.
No one could pin down David Bowie. He was here and not here at the same time. There was no space and moment specific to him. To see Bowie was to feel as though you had experienced a transcendent encounter, something larger than life. The presence of someone who had thousands of aspects to his personality yet was constantly himself no matter what aspect was shining through at that one moment. Bowie was relentless, unavoidable, untouchable. Just when you thought you might know him or that you were onto his true persona, he shifted gears and left you in wonder once again. I saw him a second time on the "Outside" tour he did with Nine Inch Nails in 1995. It was the first night of the tour in Connecticut, and while I heard the show got better as the tour went on, Bowie wasn't at his best this night (though he did play some very obscure songs and covers: "Joe the Lion" and a Jacques Brel cover of "My Death".
I remember walking out with my friend Al past the sound board, and a group of well dressed men in suits and ties stood there beaming with pride. Everything about them said that they were the financiers or producers of the tour. As we passed, one looked directly at Al and asked "How'd you like the show?" Al, not wanting to offend, said softly "It was very nice". We joked for years that had he said "Well...it wasn't quite Bowie's best night" that the entire tour plan would have been altered within minutes, maybe including the firing of NIN and giving Bowie the run of the night in every city he visited (which would have been a terrible choice, as the best part of the night was Bowie and Trent Reznor onstage together).
But it was exactly that, the choice to tour with NIN, regardless of how that particular show went, which makes the night stick out in my mind. I've thought about it for years now. Here was Bowie, almost 50, taking the risk to introduce himself to a much younger demographic by having the foresight to tour with Trent Reznor. And that's what made Bowie so incredible. Foresight. Vision. It was like he could see into the future and make choices that we would realize decades later were so ahead of the time in which they had taken place.
Every step of the way, David Bowie challenged us. He was always one - or ten - steps ahead of us in terms of image, fashion, style, sexuality, creativity. He had an entire generation asking if he was a man, a woman, and alien, neither, none, or all of the above? He twisted and toyed with time and space when we were in the midst of wanting to root ourselves in the here and now. He constantly made choices which made us reflect not only on what had been, but what might be in the moment, or what might come next if we were willing to take the risk along with him.
A constant presence in so many ways. My world looks different having encountered David Bowie throughout my life. There was no way it could not. His vision and genius was a challenge for each of us which forced us to reconsider how we experienced life when we stepped into his version of reality along with him.
And what a reality it was. I hope we all hold onto even a little bit of the magnitude of creativity, the depth of risk, and the expanse of wonder that David Bowie brought into the world.
Rest in peace, truly, to one of the all time greats.