David Bowie was a fixture of my high school years, but I didn’t get him. He was exotic, an acquired taste. I was put off by the androgyny, the makeup and flaming hair, the cross-dressing and Kabuki-ness of his persona. I was into down-to-earth bands, straightforward rockers with minimalist names like The Band.
Then I met my future husband in college. He was an avid David Bowie fan. He didn’t like The Band; he actually said he found the lead singer’s voice irritating. I thought his Bowie-fixation had to do with his being a theater major. We fell in love in spite of our musical differences. We got married.
We took the marriage business pretty seriously, the for-better-or-for-worse vows, and so I suffered through many subsequent stages of David Bowie’s electric-chameleon artistic development. My husband had to tolerate the constancy of The Band. I saw “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” He saw “The Last Waltz. And a funny thing happened along the way of married life: We learned to love the things that reminded us of each other. By listening more closely to David Bowie’s lyrics, I could understand something new about my husband. After many years, I found that I actually had a fondness for David Bowie songs, because they made me think of my husband. They somehow grounded me more firmly in our marriage. And one time, The Band came on the radio, and my husband did not change it. “They’ve grown on me,” he said. “They make me think of you.”
When we were expecting our first daughter, my husband played me a Bowie song called “Kooks,” in which parents invite their child:
David Bowie, and my initial discomfort with his work, taught me to take a second look at things that don’t initially appeal to me, or that seem a little kooky. He taught me to respect the tastes and preferences of others, especially the people I love, and not to be afraid to taste new things myself. In short, he taught me how to be a better spouse.
David Bowie was with us through all the ch-ch-changes that have so far comprised and enriched and rocked our marriage, which is now 35 years old. Bowie’s musical career was long and fruitful and classy, all qualities that I like to think fit our marriage as well.
When I heard that David Bowie had died, all I thought of was Ground Control telling Major Tom: “And may God’s love be with you.”
And with all of us, as we mourn the loss of one of God’s more brilliant, kooky creations.