David Bowie and His Dare to Be Strange

The news of David Bowie’s passing broke out early this week.  I confess that I am completely uninitiated with his music — the only one I know is “Under Pressure” with Queen.  But even so, I’m blown away by the depth and breadth of impacts his career had, as seen in the tributes everywhere.

Reading what Bowie meant to people, I notice that few seem to talk about his singing.  He was a singer, but people regard him as an artist.  Many discussed how strange (and cool) he was, while others focused on how he kept changing and evolving.

An artist is a funny concept, if you think about it.  An artist, by definition, creates a creation that expresses something within the artist him/herself.  A lot of times feelings are being expressed but other times it’s curiosity or experimentation.  By its very nature, art is self-indulgent.  A well-received artist is someone whose audience appreciates his/her self-indulgence.

Bowie was appreciated for being experimental and strange, he could sing but that’s not what people remember about him.  He followed his own muse and explored many different directions.  But that sort of sounds mundane, don’t we all explore and experiment, if not be strange?

I suspect that we don’t, not as much as we’d like to.  And I suspect that therein lies the appeal of artists.  Villains, too, by the same token.  Because they are free.  They are outside the constraints of conventions, conformity, and even morality.  They do whatever the hell they please — who doesn’t want that?

But then, I have to remind myself, that that freedom is available to me.  It is to everyone.  Choosing to tame oneself to fit in is a choice most of us make every day.  There are benefits to that choice — perhaps you face less emotional uproar from those around you as they react to your art or freedom.  But Bowie chose freedom and art, more often than most of us do.  And look at the impacts he made.

I’m sure there are prices for such choices, I’m sure Bowie paid dearly.  But my hunch is that someone who manages to battle cancer, write songs that reflect his experience as a dying man, release that album on his 69th birthday, then close it all with a peaceful end surrounded by family two days later — this was a man who had command of his life.  This may not have been the very moment he thought he was going to go (apparently he was demoing new songs to the very last week) but he embodied his art to such an extent that even the spontaneous ending came off as if it was intentionally and artistically executed.  We will never know the full extent of what he traded in return for such ability, but one has to wonder — is it better to settle for an unimpactful life while pursuing turbulence-free life? Isn’t that a façade to begin with?  Few of us truly have uneventful or unstressful life, and if so, why don’t we loosen the faucet and let a little more of that freedom flow?

Bowie was cool to a lot of people, precisely because he was strange.  He dared to be strange.  I don’t know if he thought it was worthwhile, but considering that he kept pursuing till the very end, my guess is yes.

Will it be the same for you and me?  One will never find out, unless one dares.