Bowie: Helden (Heroes auf Deutsch)
Normally, here, I offer links to what I’ve been listening to and/or reading as an attempt to introduce folks to what they’ve not heard. This week, of course, is a little different.
Why Hello, several hundred new subscribers, I didn’t see you come in. Actually that’s a lie, of course, I get ORBITAL OPERATIONS too, and I greatly appreciate Warren linking myself as well as several other fine folks, in whose company I am immensely pleased to be. I should take this opportunity before we begin to point out the lighted exit signs. Should you wish to find more of my supposed wit, I am on twitter. I am currently trying to make writing my career; should you feel moved to help with that my Patreon is a fine way to do so. Should you decide that it’s All Just Too Much, there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom of this mail. Also I should say that I always encourage this to be a two-way communication. If you have thoughts, feedback, or rants, please do hit reply.
There now, that’s out of the way.
As I said, I’m very glad Warren provided this boost to all of us. Of course, though, he had to do it on the week that we all got the same writing assignment.
(Warning: Contains spoilers for the BLACKSTAR video)
So. Bowie. Because I have to, because I am a freak of a certain age. There’s very little I can say about his musical or cultural impact that hasn’t been said, or won’t be said, by others, probably more fluently. And I don’t want to dogpile the grief train. But there is something that he means to me that I haven’t seen anyone else talk about.
A while back, my friend Trista and I collaborated on a comic, called LAST TRANS MISSION. She did the art and I “wrote” it, and I use wrote in quotes because it had no dialogue. It was intended as the comic equivalent of a silent film, or maybe a music video to a song we hadn’t heard yet, and it was about a cosmonaut who walks the streets of her hometown, ignoring the fact that all the street signs say things like OXYGEN LEVELS CRITICAL, until we cut to a shot of her, in the capsule, floating out into space.
As we were working on this, and for some time after, this idea of the Lost Cosmonaut kept coming up. Synchronicity kept bringing it back around, it would come floating through my perception like a body drifting through an airlock. It turns out, and we didn’t know this at the time, that there’s a whole myth/conspiracy theory around it. I was researching Software Defined Radio, trying to see what the upper limits are on what one might find, and I found the story of the Torre Bert radio transmissions (here is an audio recording. Warning: Creepy as Fuck). It would come up in conversations with people who did not know what we were working on. Gravity came out I believe about a month after we went to print. Not long ago this article came up on my twitter stream.
And then, a few weeks before Bowie left for his homeworld, I saw the video for Blackstar.
The idea of the space explorer never coming back down… It’s a compelling, almost archetypical image, regardless of whether or not any of the above conspiracy theories are true. Because it speaks to the universal and ancient love and fear of the endless void of space.
Space is the ultimate Other Place, for most people. The Other Place has been represented by, at various times, the Land of the Dead, the Home of the Gods, the New World, the Old World, Eden, Hy Brasil, Oz, The Undying Lands, Narnia. But we all know it. We all long to go to the Other Place and we are all terrified of it. It is where demons and gods and monsters come from, it is where the City of God and the Fountain of Youth dwell. It is incomprehensible, by definition, because to understand it is to bring it into the realm of human knowledge, to map its boundaries, its languages, its rivers and roads, and to realize that there are no monsters there, no gods, other than the ones we carry with us wherever we go. As materialism makes its implacable march across western culture, most of these lands have become bounded, nullified, or otherwise comprehended. But there’s little chance that will happen anytime soon to space.
So we send explorers out into the Other Place, and sometimes they return, and sometimes, they burn up on re-entry, or go to Croatoan, or just drift away into the void, signaling until the Inverse Square law lets us forget them. For every one that comes back, some of the map gets filled in with information, and for every one that doesn’t, those blank places get filled instead by our fear and imagination. Here there be dragons.
And the Starman? The Man who Fell to Earth? He was an emissary from that land that we all long for and fear, Chameleon, Corinthian, and Caricature of the eras. When times called for a more earthly magic he gave us the Goblin King, and even in the materialistic 80s he sang about being Heroes at the Wall between East and West. He took on different personas, but on some level we all kept coming back to that otherworldly stare and mapped his point of origin somewhere Out There in Space. We were all, always, Loving the Alien.
The truest, best, biggest artists are ones who transcend boundaries. I’ve always admired the ones who worked in different mediums, and the ones whose work in one medium inspired my work in another, as evidenced by the fact that part of my grieving process was a conversation with Chenoe Hart comparing Bowie and Lebbeus Woods. But I’ve realized that those are only the most obvious ways of doing this. Bowie transcended limitations of genre, which is something that the best artists can do once or twice, but he did it with nearly every album. He transcended traditional notions of gender, and here I use the term “transcend” very intentionally, in that he didn’t “become a woman” or “become a man”, in any crude binary way, but made it clear that gender norms were at best cultural constructions. He fluidly moved across the boundaries between pop and experimental, human and alien, god and man, hell, he even sang through the Berlin Wall.
So when I see that body of a jewel-encrusted skull in a space suit drifting back to the Blackstar, to the void from which all life comes and to which we all return, that place that we spend our lives longing for and fearing, I know what it means to me. He was always playing with boundaries, and he treated Death no differently, giving us a document that we could only read properly after he left and we all suddenly realized what it was all about. He was the interface between our world, and one, or maybe several, that were alien to us. He’s gone there, now, but the gates and glances he’s left us remain, and it is up to us all to explore them, use them to make our own, and to make our world worth him having been in it.