I never met David Bowie. I’ve probably never even breathed the same air as him. But when I heard he had died, my chest felt tight.
The celebrity obituaries have been pooling in for the past week with no signs of stopping. Many of these people knew him personally. I can’t pretend I know anything about the man — all I know is the music. So, instead of telling you his life story, I’m going to tell you mine, through five of my very favourite David Bowie songs.
1. “Space Oddity” – David Bowie (1969)
Fun fact: “Space Oddity” began as a novelty song. Bowie’s first album sold poorly, and his career seemed to have burnt out before it had even begun. Luckily, “Space Oddity” was a sleeper hit, and became the singer’s first success. Its tender melodies and sci-fi aesthetic were enough to convert a generation of fans — including me, age 10. I sang along in my bedroom and painted my face. I wanted to become an astronaut but wasn’t sure if I could breathe in space. (As I later discovered, I could not.)
2. “Ashes to Ashes” – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (1980)
Turns out, in grade eight, I made a pretty terrible boyfriend. I was clingy, anxious, and sullen. I holed up in my room and listened to classic rock. I was really into David Bowie, as most weirdo teenagers are.
There’s a line in “Ashes to Ashes” where Bowie croons “I’m happy / hope you’re happy too.” This was all I wanted to say to my high school girlfriend. Turns out she wasn’t, and I was promptly dumped. I deserved it, but I’m still thankful that Bowie gave a voice to my teenaged insecurity.
3. “Five Years” – Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
I fell in love with quite a few David Bowie songs before “Five Years,” but this was the first one that felt like it was mine. No one else knew about it — it never charted as a single, and never made as big a cultural impact as his biggest hits.
This was the first time that I delved beyond Bowie’s best-of. I listened to his discography endlessly and was still hungry for more. But for a while, nothing matched the high of this one, the song that felt like a well-kept secret.
4. “Heroes” – “Heroes” (1977)
“Heroes” was one of the first “our songs” my partner and I ever had. We turned it up as loud as it could go and sung to it at the top of our lungs in parked cars. Whenever it came on, we would stop whatever we were doing and begin hollering. We didn’t care if our voices cracked or if anyone else could hear.
“Heroes” is the perfect love songs for misfits who have found each other, and David Bowie was there when I found mine.
5. “Valentine’s Day” – The Next Day (2013)
Like most Bowie fanboys, I did my best to conveniently forget most albums he had made since Let’s Dance in 1983. It’s not that they weren’t good — it’s that they were ordinary. If there’s one thing that should never be associated with David Bowie, it’s the mundane.
The Next Day changed all that. It was Bowie’s second wind, the sprint at the end of the marathon. I reviewed it for The Peak in one of my first articles, saying it “manages to rise to the level of Bowie’s best work.” My favourite track, “Valentine’s Day,” reminded me of the first time I had heard “Space Oddity.”
I listened to it on Sunday while I watched the news of his death flood my Facebook feed. I was a different person, and so was he.