Tag Archives: David Bowie

Ch-ch-ch-changes

bowie

You think some people will be around forever.  Children of western civilization grow up with the perpetual presence of our idols in the background of our daily tribulations, and we come to rely on them as permanent fixtures.  Even if you weren’t the world’s biggest David Bowie fan (full disclosure:  I wasn’t) he was an undeniable pillar of the strange and constantly changing edifice we call popular culture, one that he carved himself to his own unique specifications – as though before him there had been a David Bowie-shaped hole that only he could fill.  There was a reassurance to be found in knowing that he was always there, continuing to make challenging music and appear in quirky movie roles and push the boundaries of expectations in art, and while maybe nine-tenths of those projects would pass by unnoticed, one standout here and there would pique your interest, and it would be a singular David Bowie creation.  It seems odd to think that Bowie’s life’s work is complete and there won’t be anything else from him.  (Listening to “Lazarus” from his final album Blackstar this morning is a bit of an eerie experience.)

More musically literate scribes than myself will pen paeans to his aural masterworks.  I come not to reel off deep album cuts but to offer only feebly-worded praise to the same great Bowie tunes that everyone else likes:  “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” “Fame,” “Under Pressure,” “Let’s Dance” to name a mere, mere few – not to mention that wonderful annual Christmas oddity of his duet with Bing Crosby on “Little Drummer Boy.”  But I always liked David Bowie best as an actor.  The profession suited him in a way it did few other musicians-turned-thespians, likely because his talent for reinventing himself was a perfect match to the art of screen performance.  He wasn’t the glamour boy ported in for a high-wattage cameo struggling to deliver his lines; in every role you could see the thoughts going on behind the mismatched eyes, the true character emerging from beneath the natural “Hey!  It’s David Bowie!” reaction the audience would be expected to have.  He elevated anything he was in simply by choosing to take on the part, on occasion braving the essaying of historical figures such as Andy Warhol (in Basquiat) and Nikola Tesla (The Prestige), turning them into memorable, magical fusions of his own persona.  He didn’t just show up and expect adulation – he acted.  He earned it.

His appearance as Pontius Pilate in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is my favorite Bowie role, brief as it is, and coming towards the latter half of what isn’t easy Saturday afternoon viewing.  Befitting a musician’s approach, Bowie’s Pilate is a melody of complex notes:  rational, reasonable, world-weary and oddly sympathetic, and one cannot watch the prototypical pop culture chameleon and author of “Changes” tell Willem Dafoe’s Jesus that “it doesn’t matter how much you want to change things; we don’t want them changed” without a wry grin.  I’m certain Bowie himself was fully aware of the many levels of irony at work in that scene.

I don’t think I’m necessarily qualified to say anything more about him; I leave that to those who were more invested in his career, who knew all the Bowie trivia, who looked up to him as a role model, who scored their lives with his music and waited breathlessly on each new iteration of David Bowie.  It’s perhaps enough to leave on the note that Bowie’s passing is a reminder that life is truly a matter of turning and facing the strange, that evolution is the modus operandi of our tragic and beautiful limited existence.  That there will always be changes, and how we adapt ourselves to the inevitability of such changes is a measure of how well we live our life.  The man born David Robert Jones seems to have managed it exceptionally well, and one can speak best of a man by being able to say at the last that he left the world a little better than he found it.

If he has to be gone now, then let us accept and embrace the change just as he would have.  To paraphrase David Bowie, we don’t know where we’re going from here.

But we can promise it won’t be boring.

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Zen and the art of snowman construction

After an unseasonably warm and extended fall, the first snow of the season tumbled to earth yesterday.  It didn’t last long, but for half an hour at least November looked like it’s supposed to.  With the mercury plunging below freezing last night I’ll go out on a limb and say we even stand a better than average chance of a white Christmas – call me old-fashioned, but it doesn’t seem right exchanging gifts and eating turkey when outside is a sea of dead leaves and asphalt.  If global warming reaches its zenith that’s one Bing Crosby song future generations will find inexplicable.  “What are you talking about, there’s never been snow on Christmas.”  (The duet with David Bowie on “Little Drummer Boy” is the other – still don’t know what was up with that pairing.)

Something else we’ll miss too is building snowmen.  Even when it does snow nowadays it’s difficult to find that perfect, temperature-teetering balance that proves ideal for snowman construction.  Too warm and your raw materials are slippery slush; too cold and the snow won’t pack together.  Ironic too, that the temperature best suited to build a snowman is also least suited to keep it around for long.  In a few short hours your masterpiece becomes a lump on the lawn with only the corncob pipe and button nose to remind anyone of the gentleman who once stood there greeting the passersby.  As illustrated in the lyrics to Frosty, the snowman by his nature is a transitory creature.  He is emblematic of the need to seize the moment, and to appreciate that moment to the fullest while it lasts.

The best snowman I have ever built, bar none, was an ambitious creation assembled on a snowy December day in 2007.  A healthy blanket had fallen during the night and the temperature was hovering around zero – prime conditions to start rolling.  It started out with the usual approach – roll a big ball for the body and a smaller one for the head.  Luckily there was plenty of snow in the driveway to use without having to spoil too much of the area around where the snowman was to stand.  We had the basic structure in place and were pondering how to finish it off when my better half suggested a twist – why not make a snow bunny?

That set the imagination afire.  We remolded his head, adding a snout and carefully shaping it to ensure it didn’t look too much like a pig.  Ears were next, followed by shoes, some stubby arms and a puffball of a tail.  A bow from an old Christmas decoration was repurposed as a necktie.  Unfolded paper clips became whiskers.  The master stroke, however, was cutting up pieces of a charcoal air pre-filter to use as buttons, nose, mouth and the all-important eyes, taking a little design inspiration from Looney Tunes along the way.  Now all he needed was a name.  The proximity of the holidays provided le mot juste, and Hoppy the Snow Rabbit was born.

Not the kind of snow bunny you'd see on the slopes...

Much like his famous brethren, Hoppy was not long for this world.  The air got progressively warmer and snow became rain.  The first to go was an ear, and by the time the sun fell, after providing smiles to pedestrians and the drivers of many passing cars, Hoppy was no more, living on only in scores of photographs taken of our accomplishment.  Perhaps we knew we wouldn’t top ourselves, because we haven’t tried to build a single snowman since.  Life – or, more to the point, the desire to stay warm on snowy days – has gotten in the way.  But that December day we brought Hoppy to life is one we remember with clarion detail, unlike so many others that have ebbed away into the stream of lost thoughts.  Was it the sheer joy of working together to build something special, or the surprise at the wonderful creation that resulted?  I suppose it’s a bit like the day I wrote about a few posts ago; the one thing they share is the act of creation itself.  Making something, even if it isn’t lasting.  Building becomes building memories.  Good ones.

If you have the chance, if the temperature is just right, get off your computer, bundle up, step outside and build a snowman.  It doesn’t have to be a work of art.  It just has to be.  Then step back and let yourself smile.  I think you’ll be glad you did.