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How do you mourn someone you’ve never known? How can loss be so palpable for one you’ve never laid a hand on? There’s been enough death and destruction in our lives lately for us to be not only too familiar, but inundated with it. We know the leaden days that follow endless succession after a personal loss, we are all too intimate with hollow nights where space expands to hold the echo. Paris, Belgium, parents, pets, and people who have touched our lives through bringing their talents so richly to theirs- now gone. How can the days feel empty with the loss of one who never filled them?
I’ve cried over a celebrity death twice before; when John Lennon was shot and the tragedy of Princess Diana. I lived around the corner from the Dakota on that cold December night and I joined the disbelieving vigil, passing candles and singing songs with strangers. With Princess Diana’s death I couldn’t take my puffy eyes off of the news coverage, watching over and over as if truth could be digested one soundbite at a time. That seems so long ago. It was all so unreal; one very macro, the other was a personal experience, and now these shocks and stunners have become so close together, they teeter on the mundane. Until Bowie.

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” – Stella Adler

After a childhood trying to pass as normal, this freak of a teenager found out that there was an English glam rocker hanging out in a club on the Sunset Strip. A high school friend would pick me up, toss me a bag with my outfit for the outing; hot pants, halter and glitter platforms and I’d ch-ch-change from suburban cheerleader to glam-child on the I-5 as we sped toward the center of the Universe; the Sunset Strip. The Strip, post Jim Morrison jumping off the Whisky A-Go-Go, was resurgent with a glam and reckless 70s energy to counter the macramé of my suburban safety and Rodney Bingenhimer’s English Disco was where we’d encounter the Starman. Like Elvis, only better, he was an artist like the world has never seen: exciting and dangerous, a legendary chameleon who could embody the character and the story, our story. The Patron Saint of the Outlier, equal parts showman and shaman, David Bowie burst from my dreams in Technicolor, alien, human, godlike and humble. He gave me the vision of a world beyond my straight-A sister and the fear of spending my adulthood in a world that felt so alien. I wore the grooves off his records, slipping him into the Hi-fi stack among the Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond and CSNY of my elder sibs. I saw him live every chance I got, slithering my way to the front of the stage like the nubile blonde that I was.
During my New York years, he was HERO; LODGER & LOW wafting through the loft, or waiting by the stage door after seeing him in The Elephant Man. David Bowie was an artist I claimed as my own; interesting, relevant, fluid. Bowie’s impression upon my youth was seminal. He not only gave us permission to be our different selves, he demanded we celebrate it, challenged a generation to take creativity to the limit and begin there.
I got home late the night he died, went to bed with a broken heart, knowing the world would be different. I couldn’t bear to see the pain on social media the next morning- perhaps if I don’t don’t logon I can pretend it never happened. But it had. Like everything has. And though I knew I’d have to face the tributes, the Ziggy profile pics and the music- oh god, the music- flooding the airwaves. It was an unavoidable reminder of what we’d lost, and what we’d gained.
In the months that have passed since his death, I’ve wondered why this death was so different. Not only for me (whose Plan A was movie star, Plan B- bear Bowie’s babies), but for millions around the globe. This star extinguished reminds us of our youthful promise to be wholly ourselves. A sobering, somber moment as we check in with our velvet covered middle-aged selves to see how our quest for artistry may have morphed into the mundane, or disappeared in the pursuit of money. For me, this is the challenge, to return to the edge and begin there once again.

Paris“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” – Stella Adler

I spent the first ten days of November in the dark, enveloped in the swirl of the Denver Film Festival, embraced by the magic of movies. My head and heart were filled with the stories of the twenty or so films I’d seen: love stories, tales of triumph and redemption, documentaries and comedies to shine their light on our human foolishness. And there were lots of war stories: old wars, new wars and wars yet to come, each carrying the weight of “why” on their backs like a wounded soldier. By closing weekend the darkness had changed. Paris had been attacked and the world was in mourning once more. Grateful for the darkened theatre, the light as it hit the silver screen, and the gift of being swept from reality for a brief span of time.

Life has always been brutal; it’s that now we have Twitter. Throughout history when tragedy strikes, by the hands of man or the slap of Mother Nature, we have managed to plod on. We survive, sometimes little more.  Healing is a matter of time and the feeling of putting the pieces back together. The leaden feeling lifts and we go on… but how do we make sense of the senseless? Our leaders offer condolences, pledges of support and election year rhetoric. Our pulpits offer duality and confusion as we struggle with loving our enemy. Where do we turn for guidance?

Look to your artists.

Mankind is complex, humanity, elusive; we search for certainty when “the center cannot hold”. We blame, strive to right the world, to get back to normal knowing nothing is certain and there is no normal.  Art has no normal. It has no answers. You can rearrange the pieces as you put them back together, creating something new the world has never seen.   Artists give us what the 24 hour news channels don’t even dream of; context.  After the films were over I was left with nothing but an empty feeling, inundated with the 24 hour news I’d been watching for 48 hours. I switched the channel and there it was, a movie of war and triumph and the power each one of us has on the life of another. The film was Life is Beautiful, and it was.

 

“There’s a moment during every single festival that I love the most, it’s that moment after the speeches on opening night and the anticipation of that first flicker of the image, where it’s a frame no longer and the first story we’ve chosen finally begins.” Britta Erickson, Festival Director Denver Film Society