Last night I stayed up to watch the Golden Globes. “A godawful small affair” in the grand order of things, of course. Today, I was woken up by a text message from a friend announcing me that David Bowie had died. I refused to believe it. I opened my laptop and the news was everywhere. When I shared it on my personal social media profile, I said that the world just got even worse.
Indeed, upon hearing of the death of an artist that has touched and inspired so many people, it’s not strange or childish to experience a sense of loss, to feel that something irreplaceable has been taken from the world.
I think this is because genuine artists talk to us about ourselves, more specifically about those parts of ourselves that we keep hidden – the strange parts, the dark parts. But these people wear their strangeness as a badge of honour, making it an important part of their identity. This is why they touch us. This is why we really want to be them. What we really envy is how open they are with their strangeness, when we are afraid. Deep down, we all know that one only becomes an individual when one stops hiding their strangeness.
And, if there ever was anyone who could be strange to the point of alien-ness, yet at the same time have such sincerity and integrity as to appear a lot more human than what we consider normality, that person was David Bowie.
I remember the first time I listened to “Life on Mars?” The mention of “the girl with the mousy hair” made me freeze. That was me. I was the girl with the mousy hair, and hated the ordinariness of it, which is why I spent years trying different colours before I found “the one.” This weakness had been somehow found out in a song written before I was born. Then, it got even stranger. The entire first stanza of the song seemed to be about me. The walking “through her sunken dream” and dazedly witnessing the often grotesque spectacle of life on Earth from which there is no turning away. The question “Is there life on Mars?” still comes to my mind when I watch the news.
Talking about the acting side of David Bowie’s career, most people mention “Labyrinth” and his alluring Goblin King, Jareth. “The babe with the power.” Isn’t it strange how all the goblins in “Labyrinth” are goblin-y creatures, but their king is David Bowie, somehow? Still, I believed it could be possible. David Bowie could make one believe anything. I am definitely not the only person who, while watching “Labyrinth” was mentally yelling, “Girl, you crazy or what? Stay with him, dammit! Where you gonna find one like him again?”
However, there is another Bowie character that holds an even more special place in my heart than Jareth. And that is Thomas Jerome Newton, his character in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I was completely, hopelessly in love with Thomas, and the acting was convincing to the point of making me wonder how much of it was actually acting.
An alien that ends up stranded on Earth in a desperate attempt to save his own planet, Thomas possesses a completely disarming beauty that is fragile, yet tough as nails, and a strange elegance that never fulfills its vague threat, because Thomas is ultimately completely harmless. He is gentle and sincere – two qualities that spell doom in the human world – so it’s no wonder he becomes mentally trapped and physically restrained on Earth.
In the end, Thomas cannot escape the ugly side of human nature and he cannot go back to his dead planet. All he can do to preserve himself is vanish and at the same time remain present, through the eerie, melancholy music he creates. Because planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing he can do.
I would say, however, that there is something we can do. We can transcend fear and pettiness and we can challenge preconceptions. The Starman – humanoid alien and alien human – isn’t waiting anymore. He’s already met us and he has left us so much of himself. His messages will remain out there to blow our minds whenever we need new perspectives.
Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.