Like so many of us, I've been thinking a lot about Bowie this week and trying to understand why his death has hit so hard. It started on Monday morning, when I was speaking to an older friend, who knew of Ziggy but little else. She likened him to Fats Domino, and my response was "Yes, but..." Of course, some of that is because I can't ever fully understand what Fats means to her or meant to her in her youth. But as I read and listen (and listen and read), I am struck not just by Bowie's breadth as a musician, but by his fearlessness and generosity as an artist.
Unlike so many pop/rock stars, he was so much more than one sound, one note, or even one persona. As Johnny Angel Wendell has pointed out, Bowie came out back when it was career suicide to do so. And while he was never a front-line advocate for LGBTQ or any other causes (though he did call out MTV's racism back in '83), he embodied the idea of individuality, most notably via gender fluidity, that our gender and our sexuality - our essential selves - were our own, that (in an era and field of incredible machismo) vulnerability is part of the human condition, that we all feel isolated at times, "and it was alright."
As Iggy Pop recalled in the New York Times (and Ian Hunter certainly could), he was also a generous collaborator, writing and producing and bringing out the best in others. And while Joanie Lindstrom (on the Late Riser's Club this morning) pointed out that "we all had periods where we ignored him," Bowie never stopped innovating. And a lot of that music - as we are hearing again, this week - is mind-glowingly good.
There is a reason for that consistent quality, for a career that spanned four decades: I've now read several interviews in which he espouses principles I too try to follow - notably that when the work feels too safe, it's time to move on - and I only hope I can do so with as much courage as he did. So, yes, David Bowie was a pop star and I didn't know him. But he was also one of the great artists of my time, and I am mourning his loss.