Rebel, rebel

I wonder how different the world would be if we could all just admit there is a freak inside each and every one of us, a part of ourselves that we know is odd, or awkward.

Sorry to break it to you, but I know you have one too. Imagine a world where compassion and empathy would be mandatory, because everyone would be equally exposed and vulnerable, but also absolutely brave and bold. In the words of David Bowie, imagine if we could all “turn and face the strange.”

By now the passing of the iconic singer will have been the subject of entertainment news headlines, academic discourse and the inevitable criticisms. The radio will play decades of Bowie’s catalogue of incredible music and the tributes will be legendary. Social media will run wild with dedications for a man we have never met, a man who didn’t buy into celebrity status, and lived his life on his terms. A man who, until his passing, we didn’t even realize connected so many of us together. There is a little Ziggy Stardust in all of us.

I grew up heavily influenced by the musical tastes of my older brother, whose passion for music was inspiring. His vinyl collection was a buffet of just about every genre, but David Bowie had a prominent place on the turntable through the years. As a child, images of Bowie fascinated me. His different-coloured eyes and sunken cheeks were strangely alluring. The man wore more make-up than my mother even owned. His high heeled boots were higher than the shoes I snuck from her closet to play dress-up.

Bowie’s outrageous outfits sometimes had me question if he really was a man. I was too young to know there were options to that definition. But here’s the weird thing: I didn’t care. Everything about this singer fascinated me. His oddities made him safe. His freakishness made him beautiful. His artistry made him real. His music sounded unlike anyone else I’d heard before, and his theatrics expressed something authentic. I could feel it, even as a child.

I remember the first time I saw Bowie and Bing Crosby sing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy on our television set. I was captivated. He looked so normal. And he was singing with the guy my Nana liked. Was that even allowed? In the days after his passing, video footage of this memory is one many of my generation shared online. There was something special about Bowie and Bing. We still feel it.

I knew this artist was not fake. It wasn’t an act. Bowie was an authentic human being. He was unapologetically weird. He pushed boundaries, not to upset people, not for limelight, but to do right by his own sense of self. Maybe that is why growing up watching him evolve as an artist, taking risks and expanding his music seemed completely normal to me. I expected the unexpected from him. I wanted Bowie to remain different. I can think of no other musician that I have admired whose reincarnations were as successful or as tolerable.

Even Bowie’s exit from our universe was done quietly. The Rocket Man headed for the stars. My rebel, rebel; ashes to ashes, funk to funky. He taught us to be authentic and fearless. Everything changes. Turn and face the strange.


Kelly Waterhouse