Remembering David Bowie




How do you write about someone whose entire body of work has been showered with superlatives, and when those superlatives have been exhausted, we simply coined new ones? How do you write about an artist who’s on the very very short list of artists that have influenced generations to follow their instincts, go against the grain, and dare to challenge.

Many words will be spilled to mark, sadly, that David Bowie has died. His life in the coming days will be commemorated, and deservedly so. That doesn’t hide from the fact that his death is something devastating, something that, like what he did in his glorious, fearless-driven life, knocked the Earth off its axis.

I won’t lie. The news of David Bowie’s passing knocked the wind out of me. There were rumors he was sick, fueled even further by the ruminations of death and mortality on his most recent album, “Blackstar,” release just three days ago, on his 69th birthday no less. His time on Earth was coming to an end.

Still, this brings me no comfort. I feel extremely empty today. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not related to David Bowie in any way, but he’s been a big part of my life for several decades; it’s almost like I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t David Bowie’s music, his words, his fashion, his iconoclast ways, in my life and everyone else’s I knew.

Like most people my age, I came to David Bowie through “Let’s Dance,” both the monster title song (it’s an instant classic, one that even my eight-year-old daughter adores) and the album itself. From there, it was a rabbit hole, discovering his vast discography, confused at first, but understanding there was something larger than life about David Bowie. He was a non-conformist about his artistic endeavors, yet he was no stranger to mainstream success.

His songs were the soundtrack to my life, and so many millions more. “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure” (his brilliant collaboration with Queen), “Let’s Dance,” “‘Heroes'” these are songs that will continue to stand the test of time, and be the music I consider essential. His albums embody the mindset of an artist forever chasing and engaging in a musical muse that led him so many times out of his comfort zone, and into creating worlds of musical landscapes that will forever stand the test of time. Seriously. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie’s output recently. The glam-soaked punch of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane can still be heard today. The experimental nature of Low and “Heroes” still influences so many independent-minded artists today. From today’s current pop landscape, and previous landscapes, the following can easily trace David Bowie’s influence into their bodies of work: Madonna, Lady Gaga, U2, Kanye West, Marina Abramovich, Joy Division, Arcade Fire; even Bowie’s son, the gifted filmmaker Duncan Jones, has widely acknowledged his father’s artistic influence.

Hell, even David Bowie the actor was fascinating. My mother once reminded me of when she saw him on Broadway as the Elephant Man, and how she was impressed by him. My mother’s cool factor shot up after that. Bowie had screen presence to burn – I loved his turn as Nikolai Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and, hell yeah, he was utterly fucking awesome as the Gnome King in Labrynth.

Bowie was always acting, wasn’t he? Whether he embodied the messianic rock star Ziggy Stardust, or the cynical, coked-up Thin White Duke, or Major Tom, and the several other personas he embraced throughout his career, Bowie was never the same role twice. This is, to this day, an important lesson he taught us creative types: what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, embrace uncertainty, leave nostalgia for others.

I’m listening to “Lazarus,” one of the tracks off Blackstar, which kicks off with the line, “Look at me/I’m in heaven.” He sings of being free like a bluebird; knowing what we know about the cancer diagnosis he kept secret, “Lazarus,” is a cry of relief, a man coming to terms with his mortality, even perhaps sharing a joke with the Grim Reaper.

Most musicians, or artists for that matter, would recoil at the mere notion of death, no less again. Not Bowie. Throught the fucking phenomenal Blackstar, Bowie jumps into the flame of excitement, knowing he was facing death head on, and he was going to mine this for all its artistic worth. Morbid, perhaps, but Bowie was never like you or I. He was never shy about facing challenges.

And that’s the thing about Bowie: he was never afraid, never afraid to search, never afraid to ask, never afraid to demand, never afraid to fail. It’s these traits that made Bowie’s body of work such an irreplaceable part of the pop culture canon – witness the legions of musicians, actors, directors, artists that have not just paid their respects to Bowie’s passing, but whose works have been influenced in large parts by Bowie. His successes are breathtaking: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; Hunky Dory; Aladdin Sane; “Heroes”; Low; Lodger; Station to Station (my personal favorite); Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); Let’s Dance. Even his failures  bore the marks of a restless, forever seeking soul.

I’ll end this with a quote from Bowie that’s been oft-repeated:

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Thank you for the music. Thank you for the words. Thank you for being an iconoclast when the world demanded comformity.

Thank you for being David Bowie. Wherever you have gone, may resting in peace be foreign to you; that would be too boring now, would it, restless soul?

NaNoWriMo CheckPoint, Week One, Or: Fun With Secondary Characters



So how we doing after Week One? Hitting our targets? Not hitting our targets? Hopefully you’re all still plugging along. For those of you who are struggling, remember, while the goal is to reach 50,000 words in 30 days, the real task is to find a daily writing routine. So whether it’s the average 1,667 words per day needed to reach 50K by 30 days, or just 500 words a day (or the 716 I’m averaging, although I’m really averaging more than that – I’ll elaborate more here in a few), or you’re cranking out 2,000 words, the point is you’re writing.

And if you’re churning out 2,000 words per day, good for you…you bastard.

As I expected, I got off to a late start. I didn’t get started writing in earnest until Tuesday the 5th, although I did manage to jot a good thousand words or so in my notebook while I was out of town. Since Tuesday, I’ve written just under 6,500 words, and it’s helped that I’ve used Rachel Aaron’s planning technique before I begin writing. I guess if I wanted to argue semantics, I’m averaging 1,786 words in 4 days of writing. But we’re not arguing semantics right now, are we? My pace still places me well behind the desired 1,667 words per day, but no matter: I’m very satisfied with the content.

Finding time to write has been the challenge, like I’m sure it’s been for you as well. Luckily for me, I work from home, so there are pockets of time during my day where I can take advantage of some free time. An hour here in between conference calls, or the hour I pencil in for a lunch break. Once my daughter goes to bed, and my wife and I spend some time together – she also works from home – I’ll use a couple of hours at night to write. I get perhaps three solid hours a day to write. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that time.

I’ve never had luck coming up with titles I liked, but I did come up with one for my newest NaNoWriMo work-in-progress: “Joe the Lion.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the title of a David Bowie song. The book’s title has to do with the progression of the character, I think. There’s the meaning of the song’s lyrics, which allude to emotional numbness, which is something “Joe” struggles to overcome. So, yeah, I’m cribbing the song title for my book’s title. If David Bowie’s going to sue me, I’d be honored.

I’m having a lot of fun with a secondary character in the story. Joe, our protagonist, leads a dull, emotionally bland existence as an office drone, and he escapes his existence via his cultish obsession with a fictional TV character named Derek Slate. His hero is a playboy detective with supernatural abilities. Think some Sherlock Holmes mixed with James Bond and splashed with a little bit of Doctor Who, and you’ve got Derek Slate. He’s a dapper Englishman with a smashing wardrobe, a quick wit, a brilliant intellect, a vicious uppercut, and an encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural. Oh, and he happens to be immortal. He’s a TV character, after all; we can make him as implausible as possible, and that comes into play throughout the story.

Derek Slate is both Joe’s Inciting Event and the person that guides him through his journey. Derek’s motives will be infuriating and sometimes cryptic, but they will mean something to Joe, and it’s up to Joe to figure that out. It’s all magical realism, of course. Anyone who’s ever read Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Haruki Murakami knows how these two authors often use a supernatural secondary character – a ghost, a talking cat, a golem, something to that extent – to push both their main characters and their stories along. Derek’s been a blast to write so far, and he’s really the engine that’s driving this story.

It helps to visualize who your characters look like. If (and that’s a big if) a film version of “Joe the Lion” were to be made, then Derek Slate would be played by this man:

Tom Hardy. I think I just made thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of women VERY INTERESTED in my novel. YES!

So I’m really not certain I’m going to reach the 50,000 word mark by November 30th, but I’m very excited about how this story is unfolding as I’m writing, in the pockets of time throughout the day and in the couple of hours at night when I write.

More details to follow. In the meantime, happy writing, and remember, it’s all meant to be fun! Share your NaNoWriMo stories in the Comments section, won’t you?