In the spring of 1995 I was 13 years old and I spent a decent amount of time with my neighbor, Brandon. He was a lanky, bright young man who swore in German, claimed to have read the entire Bible, and he listened to the Replacements and Nirvana. One day, after playing basketball, he let me borrow Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York.
I went home, put it in my CD player, and I loved it. One of my favorite songs on the album was (and still is) “The Man Who Sold the World.” As the guitar solo comes to a close, Kurt Cobain mumbles, “That was a David Bowie song.” In his journals, Cobain ranked Bowie's 1970 release The Man Who Sold the World as his 45th favorite album of all time. Bowie once told USA Today he found the cover "heartfelt," adding, "it hadn't occurred to me that I was part of America's musical landscape." I had no idea who David Bowie was and wouldn’t figure it out for years to come.
In 1998, I was a freshman in high school and my Discman played a steady stream of Pink Floyd, Rage Against the Machine, and Ben Folds Five. In the same year, the Godzilla movie was released and with it, one of the better soundtracks of the day — Jamiroquai, Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page (?!), Rage, Ben Folds, Green Day, Foo Fighters, etc. Track one was “Heroes,” a Bowie song, covered by Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers. I knew it was a Bowie song, but still, I was content to go on without him.
During the summer between freshman and sophomore years, I got another nudge. Before I took off for a summer camp, I went to Best Buy to pick up the Built to Spill album Keep it Like a Secret. It wasn’t on the rack, so I picked up BTS' There’s Nothing Wrong With Love instead. The 10th track is a fun one called “Distopian Dream Girl.” In the first verse, frontman Doug Martsch sings, “My stepfather looks just like David Bowie / But he hates David Bowie / I think Bowie's cool / I think Lodger rules / I think my step dad's a fool.” Bowie is cool. Doug was right. And my friends knew it, too.
My husky friend, Andrew, loves DB — has for a long time. For years, his ringtone was “Starman,” and he recently had an idea to start a David Bowie cover band called Piggy Stardust. Andrew and I lived together in 2013 and we spent a lot of time listening to records. Throughout that summer, one of the constants was Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.
That was it. I was in. Bowie's talent proved undeniable. From the first time I listened to the album, I was smitten. It’s perfect. The lyrics are weird, meaningful, and vivid. The music is flawless. It ebbs and flows with distortion and beauty through the story, the singing, the screaming. I could listen to it on repeat forever.
After my “come to Ziggy” experience I finally got serious about David Bowie. I picked up a handful of albums immediately, borrowed a few from friends, and I’ve been getting lost in the weird, wonderful world of David Bowie ever since. He died on January 10, but left all of us with a vast trove wonderful music and memories.
I’m still not a Bowie expert but I’ve listened to most of his stuff. It’s not all gold (the 1980s claimed many a great artist), but from 1969's Space Oddity to last week's Blackstar, he produced enough classic songs so that a person could listen all day, every day, for the rest of their life, and not get bored.
"He always did what he wanted to do," longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti wrote Monday on Facebook. "And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was not different from his life — a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift."
My first foray into Bowie was in 1995 but I didn’t truly know him until a few years ago. I missed out on the magic of his music for far too long. By way of other people — not to mention the team behind 1998's regrettable addition to the Godzilla canon — I’m grateful David Bowie's genre-defying, boundary-pushing music finally arrived in my life.
Through Kurt Cobain, Jakob Dylan, Doug Martsch, my friend Jake (I stole his Hunky Dory CD), my buddy Andrew, and some dude at the VFW one night who crushed “Young Americans," Bowie found me. And if the magic of Bowie hasn’t found you yet, it will. Thanks to his eccentric, timeless life’s work, he'll be vital and present forever. Thank you for your gifts, David Bowie.