Schröedinger’s Bowie: David Bowie as Alive and Dead at the Same Time

Schröedinger’s Bowie: David Bowie as Alive and Dead at the Same Time
Image from Scout Tafoya's article

Image from Scout Tafoya's article

In writing class, they taught us that the author is dead.

This means that your material, your art, your ‘baby’, should be able to exist without you. Once you send it out into the universe for consumption, you -- and your baggage and politics and being its creator — should be an afterthought. The material should be able to exist on its own, and your personal shit is optional, rather than a necessity to its relevance and meaning.

That said, it was why David Bowie had such a special place in my heart.

I would be the first to admit it: I do not have a very refined taste in music. I accept that people can judge me for the kind of bands I prefer -- and it's not even the mainstream radio pop variety. My cousins and siblings even bemoan the fact that when it was my turn to play something from my phone at a family gathering, they get weird guitar riffs of a man singing about sitting in a tin can, and a severe lack of Beyoncé (my siblings are secret agents of the Beygency). But David Bowie was one of my gems, the kind that I was sure that this, aside from the fact that it was the music that I related to most, was inarguably the work of a genius. Being at the cusp between Millennial and Gen X-er, my early exposure to Bowie was his protean artistry, between being Jareth the Goblin King and the new wave rock star, and his more flamboyant personas – Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, among others – almost a history lesson on how to be the impossible cool. 

But my awe is mostly of Bowie the creator: how each persona was his creation but he was decidedly unselfish about it. He treated his personas as if they had lives of their own, and each one, regardless of the personal journey David Robert Jones was going through, was a full 'self’. He celebrated them with an envious amount of self-awareness and lack of hubris, releasing them to the world with both particular attention to detail of the imagery of each one, and at the same time, a carefree shrug for either critic or fan.

In the days after his death, Blackstar has been touted as Bowie's parting gift, but I think it was also a private salute to these selves. The Lazarus music video had what seemed like an older Ziggy Stardust with the leotard and otherworldly “grandpa” dance, while the title track's video alluded to Major Tom’s final resting place. The album Blackstar felt like he was calling them back, telling them to say their goodbyes to the people whose lives they've touched, because hey, the ship is leaving soon.

I am trying to think if the album would have had the same effect if Bowie hadn't gone back home to his home planet so soon: if, despite it being meant to communicate Bowie's struggles with his mortality, he was given more time. If you didn’t know that Blackstar was Bowie’s last goodbye, would it still be as good? The simple answer is yes. Blackstar was such a Bowie album, which means that if you enjoyed Bowie the man, you would enjoy the strangeness and dark whimsy.

But Bowie was a complex man, and in his 40 years of championing the strange, he has become both his creation and its creator, and it is almost impossible to fully dissect the art from the man. Except that maybe David Robert Jones is a completely separate being as well, one that is most of the time forgotten. It is a testament to the man’s genius that his art exists on its own, conveniently fooling us into believing that we understand the material because we know the author.

But the truth is, the author was dead all along.

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Denice De Guzman is a writer and editor based in Manila. She credits David Bowie and the inventor of spandex tights in the 80s for her sexual awakening, but she has to contend with the reality that there will never be another David Bowie in this lifetime, much less one that would become her soulmate.