There’s a scene in the movie “Velvet Goldmine” where Christian Bale’s character is with his parents watching a David Bowie-inspired ’70s glam-rocker character give a press conference on TV. The Bowie character talks openly to reporters about his attraction to men, smirking to himself at how scandalous he’s being, and Bale’s character imagines himself jumping up and down, pointing at the TV, yelling to his parents “That’s me! That’s me!”
That’s exactly how I felt when I first got into Bowie. I was about 14 and I was realizing that my feelings towards boys weren’t what one would call normal and I was freaking out because I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t even know any gay adults who could provide any sort of blueprint for what this meant now that my entire perception of myself had been blown up. So I went to Google and found David Bowie, one of the queerest straight men to ever exist and an artist who explained so much to me without ever even intending to.
I’d be bullshitting you if I tried to say anything too neat and tidy like “ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ saved my life.” I knew that Bowie didn’t really know what I was going through. He made great music, but he wasn’t “speaking to me” or showing me how I needed to live. But in his music and in my weird way of thinking, he gave me the tools I needed to be courageous when I didn’t know how, and he let me be comfortable with myself when I was in a full–on panic about who I was.
I have a really hard time being open and honest about my feelings. I still — and I don’t even know why I do this — I still avoid identifying myself as gay unless I’m really comfortable with whomever I’m with. I take my anxieties and my private fears and project them onto art that I love and then I try to talk about that art with people. I nervously ramble about the show “Community” when I’m worried about loneliness or I put on a Van Morrison record and over-explain all the tracks when I really want to say “I love you” and mean it. But David Bowie helped me with a different kind of emotional honesty. I never really connected with anyone else over Bowie or had any kind of multi-layered, meaningful conversations about his work. Instead, he was an artist who helped me so much at just communicating with myself. Instead of just saying “I’m gay,” I could tell myself “I want to be like David Bowie,” and that made all of my feelings so much better. Because David Bowie is fucking amazing and had one of the greatest careers ever and just made the most beautiful music that of course I would love him and everything he meant.
Bowie has so many amazing achievements that I’m sure will be counted up and summarized by millions over the next few days, years, generations. But for me personally, he’s always going to be kind of this mentor figure. He wasn’t a substitute for the friends who helped me in a very tangible, important way and to whom I’m forever in debt to. But during an incredibly tumultuous year, a rock star from Mars made a gay, Midwestern high school freshman feel unique instead of freakish, proud instead of despairing. He’s a huge part of why music means so much to me, and every time I see an artist be really honest about who they are in a public forum, I’m so happy. Because I think of me and David Bowie and I know that a confused kid has just found a new light in his life.