The music world lost yet another influential composer, musician, singer, artist. Humanity said goodbye to an individual who used his celebrity to make a difference in the world, whether it was for world hunger, gender acceptance, or world peace. This post is about David Bowie, and will be written in two parts, because, upon learning about the surprise passing, I am reflecting on the influence he had on me as a musician and entertainer, but also the impact as a fellow cancer warrior.
From my early days of college radio where I started, I always had the reputation of being “Mr. Bubblegum”, a reference to my constant need to play popular music. I had heard Bowie’s music on AM radio back in the 1970’s, but it really meant nothing to me. That would all change with the very first radio show that I did. I was thrown into a “classic rock” segment, protesting that I did not know anything about classic rock. I relied on listeners who would call in to my debut show, who supplied me with many song selections, that miraculously, I had heard before. I just never thought of the particular songs as “classic rock.”
One of the artists that I played a lot of songs from their catalogue, was David Bowie. And for those of us who know his catalogue, his career produced a lot of hit songs. But it was when I dug into some of the history of Bowie’s songs, it was when I learned that John Lennon actually sang on Bowie’s hit “Fame”, during the descending notes toward the end of the song, several of the “Fame”s were recorded by Lennon. And that it when I learned to recognize more about music than just the notes and the sound. There were actually stories behind many songs. It was from this moment, that I know that I started to look deeper into the appreciation of the many genres of music that I follow.
There will be many collaborations that Bowie participated in, duets such as with the Christmas favorite “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby, and of course, Bowie sang along with Freddy Mercury of Queen with “Under Pressure.” Fortunately, although many hailed the combination of Mick Jagger along with Bowie, the two of them strutting with each other to “Dancing In The Streets,” I would much rather forget.
But as many will say, Bowie’s death at a young 69, and from cancer, when no one was aware that Bowie even had cancer, came as a shock. There are some celebrities who announce that they are battling cancer, and clearly, there are some who wish not to disclose it at all. Ultimately, it is the individual’s business, and we need to respect that wish. That does not make it any easier to accept. For some of us, we are selfish, and we want to know why. And I have mixed feelings about this.
One of the first things that I learned as a cancer counselor, is that there will be two types of patients, those that want to talk about it, and those that do not. And how cancer is handled can be complicated. Back in the 1950’s, people were actually ashamed to have been given a diagnosis of cancer, never mentioning the diagnosis. In the 1970’s, more cases of cancer were being publicized, but hardly with any, hardly any success stories.
So, when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1988, I not only made it a point that I was going to beat cancer, I was also going to be quite vocal about it. Following the completion of my treatments, my first wife constantly tried to encourage me to just “move on.”
But then you take my grandmother, who upon diagnosis of ovarian cancer, actually instructed her doctor to tell us all, that surgery was successful in removing the cancer, when in fact, she was in the terminal stages, soon to pass away just weeks after the surgery. Only she and her doctors were aware of the prognosis, and how fast it was happening. It was her wish, not to have people spending her final days, not hanging over her, all solemn. This was not how she wanted to be remembered.
Then my father, who for most of his life, was fairly solitary, was engulfed in support from a multitude of people who had just come into his life, after he began a brief career as an elementary school bus driver, when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My father could never grasp how he could mean so much to so many, in just so short of a time.
And then of course, there is the advocate in me. If I had my way, mainly because I do not have the resources myself to do it, I do wish that every celebrity who faces cancer, or knows someone who has, would step up, if for nothing more, than to bring awareness to the fight, and what is needed. After all, as a celebrity, you have the world’s ears and eyes.
But ultimately, I can respect Bowie’s decision to not reveal his cancer. Cancer is awful, and no one wants to go through life being remembered for the thing that took life away. Even as Bowie completed and released his final album, “Blackstar” just days before he passed, Bowie never let on what he was facing. Though clearly, in his video for the song “Lazarus,” you get an eerie display of Bowie laying in his death bed. Perhaps this was art imitating life, just as Freddy Mercury did with Queen’s last project which included, “Who Wants To Live Forever?” and “I Was Born To Love You.”
As a fellow cancer patient, I am always saddened to hear when someone was unable to overcome their battle. As someone who truly appreciates music, I am saddened that the world of music has lost a true genius.
As Joe Elliot of Def Leppard said in an interview with Eddie Trunk, “this is it, there will be no more David Bowie music being written.”