David Bowie died when I was 20. It was something I honestly never expected to happen. It was not supposed to happen. David Bowie was there when I was born and I just assumed he would be there when I died. He was not supposed to die.
When I was in elementary school, my godfather died. While my parents attended the funeral, I stayed at Parks and Rec., my after-school program that smelled like bleach and Doritos held in a moldy and dimly-lit school gym. At the time, I really didn’t understand the severity of the situation. I didn’t understand my guardian and one of my best friends was gone forever.
For all intents and purposes, it was an ordinary day, except it was raining. Usually we would have played outside but, because of the weather, we were going to watch a movie today. It was the 1986 movie The Labyrinth.
While Sarah shrieked, “It’s not fair!” and Muppet-like characters bobbed and cackled their way through scenes, I laughed and anxiously awaited the fate of an annoying teenage girl. I fell in love with Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus as they led Sarah to her baby brother. I scooted closer to our TV on wheels, blocking the vision of all the smaller kids in my grade. I was absolutely—in the most literal sense—enchanted.
But I was even more enchanted with the villain with two different colored eyes in white tights and an almost disturbing display of crotch. The Goblin King sassed the selfish Sarah and ordered around sniveling goblins all while singing beautiful songs like “Dance Magic Dance” and “As the World Falls Down.” As the music played on, the kids in the after-school care, including myself, began to sing along, stumbling on lyrics, clapping our Cheeto-stained hands and bouncing on our knees.
My mom picked me up early, just before the final scene where Sarah tells Jareth, “You have no power over me.” We were headed to the wake.
Later that night, when I finally realized the reality of my situation: my godfather was dead, I sobbed through the car ride home. My mom and I, in our tiny white truck, sailed through the Tucson night, tears streaming down our faces. Like David Bowie, my godfather died after a comparatively short battle with cancer and also like David Bowie, my godfather was one of the most fun people in my life.
That night, I lay in bed crying while my mom stroked my hair. I finally fell asleep by replaying moments of The Labyrinth in my head. The one I remembered vividly was the Goblin King tossing baby Toby in the air while his minions sang around him.
After that night, my best friend and I would watch The Labyrinth constantly throughout our childhood and even part of our adulthood. “You remind me of the babe,” she would say to me smiling. She knew I would have to repeat the next line. “What babe?” Even recently, we snapchatted ourselves singing verses of “Dance Magic Dance” to each other.
It was during this, I realized the Goblin King was a real person and not the villainous Jareth. His name was David Bowie and he was a pop star. I listened to “Space Oddity” in my room with the speaker turned all the way up when I was 13. I felt the gentle melodies and somewhat alarming lyrics with my whole heart. I discovered all of my favorites through David Bowie. He began my music education.
David Bowie not only gave me a way of remembering my godfather, he gave me a reason to dance and a reason to have fun. When I was a nervous teenager, who was jumpy around boys, too afraid to raise her hand in class and too self-conscious to wear a skirt, Bowie was there.
Bowie taught me and the rest of the world it’s ok to be weird, it was ok to be different. While I was having trouble talking to people outside of my friend group, I watched videos of Bowie dancing and singing looking almost androgynous while doing so. It was weird when weird wasn’t even allowed. There was an unsaid protest and power there.
“Bowie was a miscegenationist at a time when it wasn’t necessarily cool, or tolerated. Bowie was “queer” in that way,” Hinton Als remarked today in The New Yorker.
When my first boyfriend broke up with me, I turned on “Rebel, Rebel” and cried. The first song at my wedding was going to be “Golden Years.” I listened to “Life on Mars” on repeat while the Mars Rover landed. I heard “Fame” and “Changes” on the radio almost every morning in high school. I listened to “Young Americans” on my long plane ride back from Europe when I was 18.
I played “Diamond Dogs” when I moved into my first apartment. Today, when I heard the news I immediately went online. There was such a strong outpouring of grief from people I knew and didn’t know. People I loved and admired, also loved and admired him.
“David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is,” Iggy Pop wrote on his Facebook page.
As my idols slowly die out, this one seemed to hurt the most. I still cannot believe he is gone, but in a way he never will be. Bowie left a mark on music, film, culture and everyone that loved him that cannot be replicated.Tell my godfather hello for me. RIP to the Thin White Duke and the Goblin King, you will not be forgotten.