(Some language as always be a little salty and slightly NSFW. Just so you know.)
My kids know quite well who David Bowie is. Because I’m that kind of dad. There are other dads who make their kids know football players better than their own relatives. Or soccer stars more than Star Wars characters. Or basketball players who take the rock to the hole instead of rock stars that make life whole.
That’s where I am. More than anything else as a dad, I have always taken it upon myself to introduce them to the music that means (and has meant) so much to me. Not to force them to love what I love. But to expose them to wide variety of music and hope that it takes hold.
My kids are the ones who’ve had to suffer through playlists and mix CD’s since they were born. And it’s not like those mixes are filled only with high-falutin’ Beatles and Bowie and Dylan. There’s a hell of a lot of Styx on there, too. (Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.) My sons are the ones who have to (and willingly surprisingly) watch The Monkees with me (my first concert, during their 80s resurrection due to MTV) and know that Davy Jones is the reason we have David Bowie. (Because Bowie’s real name is David Jones and there couldn’t be two of those in rock. There just couldn’t! And what other nine-year-olds and five-year-olds know that bit of useless but slightly interesting information?)
One of the big ones though in rock that’s always been important for my sons to know of was the Thin White Duke. Nobody did an opening of a song better than Mr. Bowie. Think of the start of "Queen Bitch" or "Under Pressure" or "Little Wonder". What other song starts like "Modern Love"? It’s like a box of springs dropped off the planet Mars by spiders and bounces to happiness like no other. But those songs, especially those songs and videos of the eighties that so shaped me were only the beginning.
As I got older, I drifted into his seventies work, while continuing to follow him forward in the nineties where he was appropriately afraid of Americans and even to now. He was a time and space machine that went backwards/forwards and through different galaxies. Which fits perfectly now where everything exists all at once. Where my kids can instantly get music and movies and anything else that’s been made in the far past right now where it co-exists perfectly with the arty canvases of today and the future to come.
When my boys were quite young, I did the proper parent manner of introducing Bowie to your kids the way you should do. I showed my kids the film that can bring him to them in a way that appeals to kids. You know...
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
No, just kidding. Twin Peaks is only for teens.
I clearly mean...
The Last Temptation of Christ.
No, not that one. I'm talking about...
Because kids do love vampires.
No, it’s clearly Labyrinth.
And my kids dug it. More than I thought they would. And more than I ever did. It’s one of those films that I didn’t see right when it came out and thus it never really has held much allure for me. The same goes for The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, The Last Starfighter, and a few others. If I had seen these at the right time as a kid, it might be different, but seeing each of those later did me no favors. (Although I did love one kid in The Last Starfighter shouting in surprise, “What the shit!” In fact, if at some point when it’s not too age-inappropriate if my kids can shout “What the shit!”, I’ll be terribly proud indeed.)
Every time Bowie comes up on my shuffle, I ask my kids who it is. (I do this not just with Bowie, but other music that means a lot to me and makes me happy. The Pogues, Bob Dylan, New Order, the Who, the White Stripes, etc.) My youngest for some reason frequently says Bob Dylan when he means David Bowie. I guess there is a reverse symmetry to their names with B’s and D’s and it doesn’t help that sometimes a song called “Song for Bob Dylan” by David Bowie comes up.
(Speaking of that, it’s odd that Dylan’s outlived him. Oh, hell, that Keith Richards has. Or that Shane MacGowan has outlived the majestic Bowie and has a new set of teeth besides is one of the most unpredictable never-not-surprising wonders of life.)
Bowie is such a part of all facets of my life and my kids life that I can’t conceive of an existence without him. Each Christmas, we watch the Bing Crosby and Bowie singing Little Drummer Boy. It’s so lovely and generation jumping from Crosby to Bowie to my kids now, I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. The fact that’s it’s wrapped in a 70’s Christmas show reminds me of that time and the Star Wars Holiday Special and makes it even more spectacular.
But it goes beyond that. Because Bowie is in everything with his music, his presence, his influence, his acting, his style, his everything. From Guardians of the Galaxy to Twin Peaks to Extras to all that’s inbetween.
As a young teen, one of the biggest moments of teen glory was when we got MTV. We’d heard Mr. Bowie and others say I want my MTV, but in our house in my town in Nebraska, we had to depend on Night Tracks and Friday Night Videos for our music videos. Like animals!!!
We couldn’t have videos all day. And when I’d stay up and watch Night Tracks, Bowie’s songs charged through me with a power unlike anything else. (I also hold a special spot for “Our House” by Madness there, too, but that’s a weird bit of me-joy.)
However, one day we got MTV. And the big news was there was a world premiere video to air. And not a regular video, but a long video, which was something I’d never even known could be done. It seemed like someone was doing something exciting and new on a channel that was designed to be exciting and new. And yes, it was Mr. Bowie. The video was for “Blue Jean” and I was entranced. It had a filmed story with a hell of a song and I made sure to be back and watch it again when they replayed it later that night.
(I don’t know why I didn’t just record MTV on our Betamax. Yeah, we got cable way late and had Beta. Don’t be so jealous of me being the 1980s equivalent of Laura Ingalls.)
Being a boy in the eighties in Nebraska meant wallowing in a cesspool of homophobia that’s astonishing to think of now. Every day – especially if you were different from the football loving other boys – you would be called a “homo” or “gay” or a ton of slurs that were meant to make alpha dogs feel more alpha-y. And no matter how much you liked women (so much you could barely talk to them), it didn't matter (and it shouldn't have mattered one way or the other.) But in Bowie we had a Diamond Dog. For all us weirdos and aliens and strange beings that didn’t fit in, he did what he did and looked so damn cool it offered a way out. A hand up to a galaxy we never knew existed nor dreamed we could ever be part of.
More than anything, Bowie’s passing off the mortal coil has reminded me of how much my parenting is about sharing the soul-inspiring, life-changing music that I love and hoping my kids love it, too. If they don’t, that’s fine. But with my oldest, he’s clearly digging music in a profound way. Some of it not my kind of music – he’s recently been digging some grunge he started playing on Rock Band – but the fact that he loves any music is huge for me. My youngest doesn’t seem to care as much about music and I’m considering trading him for a Tribble. (An old school one at that!)
As I told my kids that David Bowie died, I told my son about how great Bowie looked in his final days. My oldest asked what he looked like and I showed him the pictures of the man that we’ve all seen now.
I showed him those pictures. A man on the verge of his final transformation, looking far better than anyone ever had. So while I’ll have the 300 plus Bowie tracks I have playing constantly for the next week or two, it won’t be as any kind of dirge. It will be a reclaiming glory. Because as many times as he inspired us to be a hero “just for one day”, he will be ours for eternity.
The T stands for Oddity