Dead Rock Stars

I know what it’s like to lose people whose art, music in particular, I loved. Lemmy’s death sucked, but he was old and sick and few people stiff-arm death like he did for as long as he did. His run was epic. It sucks that the Ramones are all dead. Ronnie James Dio died of illness, but he was old too. That’s probably how I’ll go out, given my family history, and sometimes I feel like I’ll be lucky to make it out of my 50s, frankly, given how shitty I am to myself. I just find this outpouring for people we don’t know to be really weird. We all die. None of these deaths of artists who have lived long lives with decades of work to remember them by are tragedies.

But, man. I literally had no idea David Bowie was such a big deal to so many people. I feel like the only person on the planet who is completely ambivalent to the whole thing. Of course I’m sorry for his family. He had cancer, which sucks. I’m sorry he had to face that. He was 69, which isn’t THAT old but isn’t young either. I suspect he had a lifestyle that means to get to 69, though, he had to fake death out a time or two. Good for him. He had a good run. I don’t know if he was a nice guy or not. People are saying nice things about him. But people said nice things when Nixon died too, and he was an asshole.

I respect Bowie’s place in the pantheon of rock idols, or even using the broader term “artist,” but he was never part of anything I listened to or even cared about. I’m not trying to be that guy who likes to rain all over everyone else’s parade, it’s just weird to experience. A few points:

  1. In all my years of hanging around music and music people, at no point has anyone ever said, “Hey, you wanna listen to some Bowie?” Not one time. Nor have I ever been asked, “So what’s your favorite Bowie record?” Not once. And don’t give me any of that, “Well, you’re just a metalhead!” bullshit. I listen to lots of different kinds of music, and have friends all over the musical map.
  2. I’ve never been inspired to seek out David Bowie on my own.
  3. I totally get though that if you were a “weird” kid in any way, male or female, who didn’t fit in with those around you, Bowie could have been someone pointing you the way. He just wasn’t that for me. And yet his death has me feeling the “odd one out” again, a sense that probably drove a lot of folks to Bowie in the first place. It’s a wonder the world doesn’t explode. Still, “weird kid” cliques were every bit as conformist and brutal as any “mainstream kid” cliques were, they just dressed differently.
  4. Julia​ is a Bowie fan, which I guess I kinda knew, yet in the 13 years or so we’ve known each other, we’ve never listened to Bowie together. We’ve listened to Ralph Stanley. The Carter Family. Skip James. SUNN O))). Ufomammut. The Cramps. But David Bowie? Not once (not counting when he’s come on the radio or something, or in a movie soundtrack, of course).
  5. I probably can’t name 10 of his songs. “Fame” was always cool enough. “Suffragette City” comes to mind. Both have been ruined by classic rock radio overplay, though.
  6. In my formative years as a music listener, Let’s Dance was his big record. I thought then, and still do, that it is essentially unlistenable. “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”? That’s as bad a lyric as anything KISS has ever written. He never did anything since that piqued my interest to investigate deep into his back catalog, unlike someone like, say, Alice Cooper, who was also basically retired before I ever really got interested in music, then made a comeback, of sorts.
  7. His duet on “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger should go in a time capsule as one of the worst things that happened in that era. I mean, that song is terrible no matter who does it (yes, even Van Halen), but that version in particular, and the video, might be the shittiest.
  8. “Under Pressure” is the worst song on Queen’s Hot Space record, and that isn’t a good record anyway. We would have forgotten the abomination if Vanilla Ice hadn’t resurrected it and turned it into an object of cultural scorn.
  9. So, because of points 5-8, see again #2.
  10. I liked that vampire movie he was in. But Labyrinth? Unwatchable unless you’re a child, or like to revisit your childhood favorites, which is fine. The only good thing about that movie was when my friend Bubba (RIP) used Bowie’s character’s image for a Traveller character he played in 1987/88 or so (Traveller being a sci-fi roleplaying game popular back then; for further reference please purchase and be blown away by the 2004 concept record, Traveller, by the mighty San Francisco band, The Lord Weird Slough Feg​).

It’s entirely possible that tabloids, the internet, tell-all biographies and memoirs, all of that stuff has completely ruined hero worship for me. All of my idols of youth turned out to be raging assholes, and if I’m cynical about anything, it’s successful artists and entertainers. I just don’t get it. But to each their own.

I will admit to being bummed when Lux Interior, right, died
I will admit to being bummed when Lux Interior, right, died

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

8 thoughts on “Dead Rock Stars”

  1. I became aware of Bowies music through friends who liked him. His top 40 stuff is crap and not representative of his abilities and talent as a vocalist. Ziggy Stardust is a classic album, but most of his best stuff never got any radio airplay, just like most viable artists that HAD any good stuff. I was also a metalhead, and covered the thrash metal and hardcore punk scene for various publications through the 80’s and into the 90’s. I met Lemmy, found him to be a nice person, and miss him greatly. Bowies work is INCREDIBLY VARIED and he almost never repeated himself. Check out the song “All the pretty things are going to hell” for an example of a song by him that was more what he
    usually did and less “Pop/crap” music. Bowie also did an appearance on a Bing Crosby Christmas special where him and Bing did a duet of the “Little drummer boy” and Bowie was whipping Bings ass so bad, that Bing gave up and let him finish the song solo. David Bowie (real name “David Jones” )was an incredibly talented musician and actor (check out his performance as “the Elephant man”) and it is for that reason that those who paid attention miss him and are distressed by his passing.

    1. I’m sure folks have their reasons, and they’re certainly free to grieve however they want. None of that will ever convince me that freak-outs over celebrity deaths are weird, though. At best I can admit it’s a bummer, hope for the best for the people closest to them, then shrug and move along with my own life.

  2. I’m with you on Bowie. I was very surprised to hear that he passed away. However, I do like some of his music, if only because it gives me a sample of the genres I’ve ignored while growing up. Haven’t watched any of his movies though. Did see him in a modern spaghetti western that also feature Harvey Keitel.

    And yes, classic rock has ruined most of his listenable hits for me.

    1. I think that’s it for me, was surprise. I didn’t even know he was sick. But then I realized that maybe it WAS common knowledge, and that he simply isn’t on my radar enough for me to know about it, you know?

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