BY STEPHANIE VALENTE
Look up here, I’m in Heaven!
As a kid, I was always conscious of David Bowie. Just like you're conscious of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Back to the Future, or the Mona Lisa. He was something that always existed. He was the world, the moon, the glittering stars, and even the black holes.
The magic didn't happened until I was 15. I was a Catholic school girl with ripped stockings, Poppy Z. Brite novels, and Doc Martens--I was ripe for the skeptical-of-humanity stage. As my friends and I traded iconic albums (The Cure’s Disintegration being one benchmark, but that’s another story), I stumbled across Bowie's Aladdin Sane after my friend Natalie dumped a plastic bag of cassette tapes in my lap one morning in our school’s dining hall.
In my room, I gave the cassettes a spin. I can only describe the rest as floating. My ears tingled. There was a unknown but familiar rush of excitement and curiosity. My teeth buzzed. I rewound the damn tape for the next few hours. After that day, nothing was the same and it was amazing.
My skin and my bones vibrated from that day forward. Bowie didn't judge. I learned that it was okay to be an other. A glam fiend, a bisexual, an alien who didn't feel right for this world, or a lost astronaut. I didn’t have to worry about judgement, not being pretty enough or popular enough in school, or in life.
David Bowie died during Mercury Retrograde. Like most kids with a curiosity and drive to explore, I felt like I was a tiny orbiting planet, spinning and spinning and waiting and waiting for something to happen. Sure, things happened. To other people, but not me. As many girls were finding their first kisses and boyfriends and prom dates, I filled up sketchbooks, wrote under pen names, and forged a voice on Livejournal. I traded mixed tapes and made internet friends. I was lonely and not lonely at the same time. I tried to separate myself from a mainstream identity that didn’t feel like it fit just quite right.
What the music taught me was experience and identity are fluid. People change all the time. Life makes us chameleons, or we sink. And it's a lovely and awful experience, but it’s something we should always remember.
As a teen trying on different identities at the time, it lit my brain on fire.
There’s no sign of life. / It’s just the power to charm.
Bowie is a gateway drug. From there, I was primed for more. The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, the Stones, Stevie Nicks, Tom Waits, it even spurned an art obsession in Andy Warhol. Essentially, I was doomed to look for at the glory and beauty of decay and the moody experiences in life.
Bowie and all of these artists drew me deep into a world of lyrics and ultimately, poetry. With clever snark (and even sadness) such as “I’m afraid of Americans / I’m afraid of the world,” I dove into a world where words were playful, smart, intoxicating, moody, and even cosmically comforting. Slowly, with each new album discovery, tiny star trails of poems emerged. Eventually, I would major in literature and my life would take on a new meaning.
I became light and dark. I became the cosmos and dirt. In some way, we are all Bowie's fallen earthlings.
Watching him dash away / Swinging an old bouquet / Dead roses
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The only way I can close out this loss is to steal someone else’s words. Besides Bowie’s lyrics, my sister and Luna editor, Joanna Valente, says the eulogy for this artist that I wish I could say:
“My inspiration has died. He was more than human and life and beauty. We are all better because of him.”
I still have those tapes from my adolescence. They came with me in a beat up black Nissan and a series of adult apartments. I intend to keep the tapes until they turn into stardust.
The world gave me Bowie when I was forging an identity and needed a key to the universe. Now, the world is asking me to live in a world without that dark star.
Stephanie Valente is an editor and writer. She’s still trying to figure out how she fell to Earth. She edits Yes, Poetry with her sister and her chapbook Hotel Ghost premiered at Bottlecap Press in 2015. She is currently working on a novel or a poetry collection on some kind of moon magic. She can be found by the old stars: stephanievalente.com