In the late 1980s I became obsessed with a movie called Labyrinth starring a man named David Bowie. My parents appeared to recognize him as some kind of celebrity, but to me, at the time, he was only Jareth, The Goblin King. Labyrinth was one of a number of 1980s films that augmented my nascent love of fantasy and cemented it as a foundational part of who I am. It was only later that I realized that I had been watching a rock legend dance around in a movie aimed at children.
Last night, I played Starman for my son, who is three years old. We danced to it in front of my laptop. I had recently downloaded David Bowie’s newest album, an eerie, atonal, masterpiece of symphonic jazz. Like so many other people, I had no idea he was even sick.
My wife woke me up this morning to tell me he had died. The irony was not lost.
I was a Bowie fan long before I even knew I was a Bowie fan. When it came to music and art, he was always a central figure for me, looming in the background like a quiet alien. First as Jareth, then as a musician, and later as a symbol of what it means to be an artist.
We all thought he was immortal. Yes, he lives on through his music, but, appropriately, there’s something more to be said about that.
Listening to him on satellite radio this morning, it occurred to me that Bowie has been broadcast into outer space by radio and now satellite for over four decades. His voice has been traveling through space at the speed of light (or the speed of life?) since at least 1969, when Space Oddity was released as a single. That means that Space Oddity has traveled approximately 47 lightyears into outer space.
The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri, which is approximately 4.24 lightyears away. The first transmission of Space Oddity has traveled over ten times that distance. What does that mean?
David Bowie is literally a starman.