2015 was, for me, a return to myself, and beyond that, a return to what makes me feel a deep sense of personal freedom. What does freedom mean to me? It is a space in which to exist where choice is abundant. Is it comfortable? Not always, but it is where I feel the most like myself.
I’m the sort of person who has many different sides of the bed to wake up on and I work really hard to sort my life out to give me the space to be present with whomever I happen to be on any given day. Sometimes that means I am a person who doesn’t want to engage with the world. Sometimes that means I put on some animal print and kick some ass.
Sometimes it means I get a tattoo of a red and blue lightning bolt on the back of my neck because a living symbol of individuality and belief in personal freedom died of fucking liver cancer like a mere mortal and I can’t stand it.
Say what you want about the man, but he was a true artist and a priest of the holy church of personal freedom. I’ve spent the last few days with my brain gaping open like a vacuum, slurping up any bit of information I can about him, pouring over lyrics looking for messages that would make sense of his life, his death, his art, and finding that those three states of being were all one to him. He spent his whole life with his brain gaping open like that. Reading incessantly, listening to music constantly, taking in art, talking about art, living in art, being art, he made his death into art.
I keep coming back to this image he presented us with in the Lazarus video (his last and you should absolutely watch it but bring tissues and a friend) of him furiously and manically writing. A man possessed by the need to get it all out before he slipped away like a phantom. Reading into the lyrics of Lazarus, one understands that rather than give cancer the honor of taking his life, Bowie most certainly had the intention to make his final act of art his own.
This man spent his entire life subverting, rebelling, and dancing on the edges like the holiest of fools. Plucking out the juiciest bits of life from the carcasses of everything he encountered and dissected, presenting them to us in a carefully curated blend of flavor, texture and temperature to consume. When asked “Who are your heroes in real life?” he answered “The consumer.” When asked “What is your favorite journey?” he answered “The road of artistic excess.”
One reason why I believe we’re all feeling such a huge loss right now is that Bowie was among the last of the great artists who could use music to subvert. In many ways the medium of music is no longer able to be subversive due to its high saturation. (He said this better than I ever could here and you should watch the whole thing, but the bit relevant to this point is around 6min in.) As he says, the Internet promised rebellion to us next, and it was cool for a time, but has also become too saturated to be subversive anymore. We are experiencing a lull in creativity because we need rebellion. It is coming, can you feel it? I can. It’s that tingling sense of unease at the back of my mind. The rising feeling that it’s going to come down to us vs. them. That’s what a movement feels like. Like there are those who get it, whatever it is, and those who don’t, and that’s why it is cool.
So, what is it going to be?
(WARNING: semi-sappy lyric quoting ahead)
My vote is that we all turn and face the strange changes. That we be our truest, weirdest and best selves. That we connect with and commit to our individuality and personal freedom. That we give a big middle finger to anything that closes us in, or separates us from each other and our hearts’ desires. Because when our heroes leave us, it means we can be heroes. I will be king, and you will be queen. We can be us, just for one day. We can beat them forever and ever.