His death shook the world with grief and celebration. When he released the brilliant Blackstar on his 69th birthday, I thought it was a cheeky birthday present. It was his own eulogy for himself.
I can’t help but wonder at his physical state as the end came, especially after I heard that the Blackstar recording sessions wrapped just over six months ago, and the videos were filmed around the same time. I imagine an emaciated, skeletal Bowie, wracked with an imploding, catastrophic physicality. Inescapable.
Some of the tweets I read were about how impossible it is to write a simple summation of Bowie's career. Yes, there was the music, but there was also the films he made and performed in, the innovations in theatre, and the visual arts. He was forever changeable.
David Bowie was a living embodiment of the vibrancy and value of process, mutation, hybridity, strangeness, restlessness, and change. He's the West's greatest icon of the reality of flux.
This, when I think about it, is how Bowie has influenced my own creative work, and my entire intellectual approach to life.
In the world of marketing and branding, consistency is prized. This is true for a lot of Western philosophy too. Each of us has an essence, the content of our identity that never changes, that makes a thing who and what it is.
This is what it typically means to "stay on message,” or at least maintain the brand. You continue forward, satisfying and staying true to what your audience expects of you. Any changes to your brand are accomplished slowly, so as not to disturb or irritate your audience.
And in most cases, that underlying essence remains the same. Brand X retains the core set of values that it embodies in the public eye. Your brand is the one part of any person or company that remains certain and eternal in the face of all the constant activity that flows around you in the world.
Ever since Parmenides, one of the mystical metaphysical seers of ancient Greece who began the Western tradition of philosophy, truth and even existence itself is only real when it does not change. To be changeable is not even to be real.
Change, whether in the radical form of death or just everyday alteration, is the negation of existence itself. What is, is – if it is, then it can’t not be. If there’s no true you that's immune to change throughout all the flux of your life, then your own life has no foundation, no ground, no identity.
Bowie didn't change that concept. In a lot of ways, that concept still exists, and permeates the Western mind-set, if not the human one. But through the worldwide success of his art and his personality, he did more than any other person more quickly to kick that concept to pieces.
Bowie is a process thinker’s musician. He foregrounded flux and embraced it as reality. To change was the nature of his identity. Continuity and identity emerges from motion, not stability.
What if what’s expected of you, is shock and surprise? Reality is flux and transformation, the creativity to make the new. The eternal is worse than the dead, because the eternal was never really alive.
No life lasts forever, but the affects you generate persist, because they integrate with the world around them to change it. Your immortality isn't about preserving some essence of yourself in the eternal. It’s to proliferate your influence on the world so that the universe is different from how it would have been if you never existed.
Everything ends, but death is not the end.