Leighton Zink: Searching for Starman

I gave Starman another listen Monday afternoon. It felt like the right thing to do. It was, in all honesty, as good as every other time I had heard it. Maybe a little better. I queued it up a second time, rolled into bed and thought about it. Everything I knew about the icon’s legacy was from someone who had grown up loving David Bowie in his entirety: the image, the persona, the drive to make his career his own. Not once had I heard “Hey, Space Oddity was pretty good” or “Under Pressure? Yeah, I think that made a playlist a few years back.” It was as if to his audience, Bowie either meant everything, or nothing at all.

On my third time through Starman, I decided that there was something sadder there, too. I took a break and tried Heroes instead. I have always been the type of person to sit someplace in-between: Bowie is a regular on my playlist—always has been—but in the five-odd years I have been listening to his work, it has gone no further than that: listening. I’ll be the first to admit that David Bowie never did change my life; I am just a man who enjoys his music. I think there’s room for that.

It does raise an interesting question though: Is my lack of a personal connection purely generational? One could say that I wasn’t alive for the greater portion of Bowie’s career, that nothing will ever compare to hearing the needle hit Rebel Rebel for the first time in your life, and yet, I’m still not sure that quite explains it.

There are millions of people out there, born long after Ziggy Stardust would ever make his debut, who connect with more than just the novelty of a character. Bowie was the type of artist who spoke, above all else, to a sense of discovery—to doing what you love. There is room to explore, to redefine yourself and your work, and to be successful not in spite of it, but because of it. Don’t get me wrong, Bowie’s legacy will always remain, in many ways, a part of the past; but there’s something about taking your passion into the stars that is infinitely more youthful, romantic, and inspiring than any single one of us could hope. I have to admire that.

And yet as poetic as it may be, the semi-generational nature of an icon can make the effect of their passing a great deal harder to understand. Was David Bowie influential? Certainly. There are two Grammys, nine platinum albums and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame willing to back me up. And yet to this day, there will also be those who see David Bowie as little more than the name on a news report: some too young, some not young enough, and a whole bunch who just never quite made a connection with his character. It’s a divide that can sure make writing advice for you guys tough.

Which is why, at the end of the day, I’m not here to tell you how to react to David Bowie’s death. There is simply too much that I don’t know about your relationship with him and, admittedly, a great deal more that I don’t know about death. It would just be altogether presumptuous. Losing someone, as hard as it is to hear, is a unique experience for everyone.

Will my generation ever find their Starman? You know, there’s a small part of me that hopes it never happens. We put far too much faith in online auditions and televised talent shows to tell us who that next Mick Jagger or Mariah Carey will be. Meanwhile, I hadn’t even realized there was something wrong with the old Mariah Carey. It’s as if we’re afraid to let talent sneak up on us, unclaimed, unlabeled and entirely unique from anything before it. What ever happened to thinking outside the box? I have a sneaking suspicion that Ziggy Stardust was never particularly worried with what Simon Cowell thought of his “x factor”, and hey, look where that got him.

So perhaps what I am trying to say is that a life as full as David Bowie’s isn’t meant to be found: it’ll hit us one day from the blue, and we’ll all wonder how we ever missed it.