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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Stardust

What more can be said about David Bowie's passing that hasn't already been said? The six heart attacks he survived, the liver cancer so few knew he suffered from, the messages embedded in Blackstar that portend his demise, his final album on track to becoming his biggest record ever. There were fascinating pieces on the fashion trends Bowie set, his chameleon-like transformations, and his music, which spanned decades and encompassed many genres. There were Top 10 Lists, tributes from those he influenced, anecdotes from those he emboldened. It's all been said, and yet, it seems we can't stop talking about this elegant, eloquent, beloved man.

And for good reason. David Bowie was a legend among rock stars. He was a touchstone for artists in genres as diverse as glam rock, folk rock, pop rock, industrial rock, hard rock, electronic, even grunge and metal. Bowie was genius. He was magic. A true original. Whatever he turned his eye to—be it music, movies or mime—he absolutely killed it. Pulled it off with that typical Bowie panache. His muse was fierce and true.

Bowie broke down barriers. Mercifully for me, he had an appetite for color. I grew up a redhead in the '70s. To be a ginger back then was not cool, and I suffered my share of bullying for it. And then Bowie came along with his shock of orange hair, belting out "Rebel Rebel." That shut 'em up.

Back in those days, my dad and I didn't always see eye to eye when it came to music. Bowie was too extreme for him, if not in song then certainly in appearance. Then came the curious pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby on the latter's Christmas special. My dad and I watched together that night as the duo sang "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth," and something miraculous happened. Bowie won him over. He finally conceded that Bowie wasn't that bad. That, in fact, all scrubbed up like David was, he was actually quite good. Score one for my generation.

Bowie helped to bridge another gap just the other day when I told my daughter of his passing. The news failed to register. "You know," I said. "Rebel Rebel," "Fame," "Space Oddity." Crickets. I sang a few bars of "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes." I did my best "Ahh, wham bam thank you ma'am." Nothing. My daughter was unimpressed. And then I sang her a bit from "Let's Dance." Finally, the light of recognition! She knew the song, she knew him, from the music video game Dance Dance Revolution. "Hmm, " she said. "That's sad," and for a moment, she looked genuinely sorry.

And it is sad that Bowie's gone. He'd just released a new album, his 27th. I was expecting a tour to follow. His peers from back in the day are all doing it: The Stones, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Paul McCartney, The Who, Elton. So why not Bowie, right? Blackstar was supposed to herald a tour, right? At 69, Bowie still had so much life left in him. There should've been time for one more tour.

I was very fortunate to have seen Bowie in Pittsburgh, 1976. I'll always be grateful I seized the opportunity and not passed on it, taking for granted there'd be another time. There wasn't for me. Bowie's performance was prefaced by clips of ants crawling in an unfurling hand and a razor blade slicing into an eyeball. Surreal images from the 1928 film Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí, a short film I would discover in a college film class many years later. When Bowie took the stage that night in Pittsburgh, he had our attention. I can see that show in my head to this day.

When asked to comment on Bowie's passing, Brian Eno said it best: "David's death came as a complete surprise, as did nearly everything else about him. I feel a huge gap now." Except for those closest to him, the news that Bowie was gone was met with collective shock. It seemed violent somehow in its suddenness. Stories describing in detail typically reserved for events on par with JFK's assassination, with their where-were-you-when quality, popped up everywhere, describing how fans came to hear the news. The void Bowie leaves is palpable as we struggle to get our heads around a world without him.

I read the other day that Bowie's body had been cremated immediately upon his death, without friends and family in attendance. Without media intrusion. There were no memorials. He chose to leave here the same way he chose to live here: with dignity and grace. I, like many others, prefer to think Bowie simply got back into his spaceship and returned to his own planet. That if we stand out at night under the dome of stars, we'll be able to feel his presence surrounding us. Immortal. In the words of artist Justin Hampton, "Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust."

Rest peacefully, Starman. Watch over us. Thanks for the music.

Kathy Dickson picked up her first guitar at age 8. Her passions are music, concert photography, and the mosh pit. In addition to her writing for Guitar Tricks, she has contributed work to Guitar World. Her writing and photography have also been featured in Innocent Words Magazine.

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