I discovered the news of David Bowie’s death shortly after lumbering out of bed this morning. There was a very long beat where I thought it had to be some sort of internet hoax. Bowie’s latest album, which I have not yet listened to, is three days old at the time of this post. The timing of what had to be his “alleged” passing made the news feel unbelievable. It smacked of marketing gone wrong or wholesale internet gullibility.
Besides, David Bowie has been a fixture of popular culture for my entire life. The man is (because even as I write these words I don’t want to use the past tense, just yet) a fixture. This omnipresence imbued his person with a sort of immortality. David Bowie isn’t a man; he’s a musical elf. He exists in tandem with human civilization. Each generation witnesses David Bowie telling them it’s okay to be odd, and it’s good to struggle with a sense of self. The notion of a world without David Bowie seems foreign to me. Even if all men must die, here is a man whose life and career seemed beyond banal things like mortality.
This said, there are literally millions of people who should more rightly call themselves a fan of David Bowie’s work than yours truly. Much of his discography remains unknown to me. Despite this, the far reaching nature of his music managed to penetrate the nerd-sphere in which I dwelled as a youngster, burning New Angels of Promise into my mind as the first piece of music that ever connected with me.
Bowie, with Reeves Gabrels, composed and performed the soundtrack to Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and he would adapt much of it for his 1999 album “Hours…”. Though Bowie tinkered with the lyrics of New Angels in the album version of the song, the persistence of a somnambulus pan pipe melody in contrast to its powerful guitar riff made me feel like I had finally discovered a kind of music that didn’t sound like everything else – almost all of which seemed weird to me, at the time. There was an alien-like mystique to the song, particularly in it’s Omikron form. Likewise, I discovered it in a digital space, which was still a mystery to many people in the late 90s. For me, the song and the cyberspace in which it made its debut felt like home.
Outside of my nerd world, the late 90s saw grunge dying (or dead), with boy bands and Britney Spears on the rise. My musical landscape, as filtered through the high school experience, was a choice between loud screaming metal that made my ears bleed or a new generation of top-40 music, engineered on a genetic level to be as catchy as it was shallow. This one song, written for an obscure video game, cut through it all. It has stayed with me for nearly twenty years. I don’t imagine it going anywhere for the rest of my life.
Today, as people reflect on Ziggy Stardust or The Thin White Duke, I’ll be thinking about Boz, the mystical being who lived inside the city of Omikron’s computer networks.