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Ashes to Ashes


"I heard a rumour from Ground Control. Oh no, don't say it's true."

I started awake before dawn this morning to the sound of my cell phone blowing up with condolences. By the tone of some of them, any casual onlooker might assume my friends and family thought I might hurt myself. Which is a bit funny to consider -- I'd never met David Bowie, never even had the opportunity to see him in concert. But so many people who know me thought of me upon hearing he'd died. We've all felt that bizarre shell-shock from the death of someone we never met, but admired all our lives.

After 69 years on this planet and an 18-month battle with cancer, and just two days after releasing his 25th studio album, "Blackstar," The Starman has returned to the stars. The Man Who Fell to Earth has fallen from it. And so on.

Like many in my generation, I first set eyes on David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth in Jim Henson's fairytale film, "Labyrinth." My best friend and I were so enamored with this strange creature that we recreated the whole movie in the form of a hand-made puppet show for our profoundly disinterested second-grade class.

When my mother realized I wasn't going to stop asking questions about this freaky wizard of a person, she bought me my very first piece of music: a "Station to Station" cassette tape (thanks for the indulgence, mom). The album includes a ragingly manic ballad about a self-deified, self-destructive rock star loaded on cocaine and kabbalah ("Station to Station"); a strangely disco love song ("Stay"), and a vocal cord-busting cover of Nina Simone's "Wild is the Wind."

After that I was pretty insatiable, consuming more and more of his ever-shifting identities and ideas about this strange trip of ours through space. And not to be a bloody hipster about it, but my New Kids on the Block-obsessed peers definitely didn't approve of my adoration of this weirdo, and they let me know it.

"But isn't he gaaaay?," they asked. I didn't really know what that meant, and I assume now that they didn't either.

So this Bowie adoration of mine was a mostly private thing until later, when Nirvana covered "The Man Who Sold the World" on MTV's Unplugged. To this day I still witness people having the revelation that this song is actually a Bowie song (do they also not realize how many of the other songs Nirvana is known for were covers of Meat Puppets songs?).

The kids had rediscovered Bowie. It was bound to happen -- while I won't argue that he's the greatest musician ever to have lived, he was so much more than a rock star. He's inspired so many of us weirdos to unabashedly pursue our own truths and tastes, with as much smirking charm as possible. This sentiment is probably best articulated in actress Tilda Swinton's opening speech for the "David Bowie Is" exhibition held in 2013 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

And his impact is more than evident today, with the "trending" eulogies and memories and emotional outpouring on social media.

In this city, we all share the strange, combined pride and shame of discovering Bowie was arrested in Rochester for possession of marijuana in 1976. There will be a David Bowie Tribute Night at the Bug Jar on March 25, which is the 40th anniversary of his Rochester arrest. And a documentary about the arrest is in the works, so watch for updates on that.

It was unimaginably hard to choose, but a few of my favorite songs appear below in a Spotify playlist. I'm a fan mostly of his 1970's music, with the most soaring vocals and political concepts, but there are certainly lots of deviations from that, from 60's folk to very recent collaborations with other artists.

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