Ever since the news broke in the early hours of January 11 that David Bowie had died at the age of just 69, the print and pixel media have been filled with tributes and testimonies. Details of the singer’s life, loves and lyrics have been dissected in order to assess his legacy and weigh his impact on contemporary culture.
The church’s new starman!
We’ve had articles on Bowie the innovator, Bowie the shape-shifting chameleon, Bowie the pioneer of musical trends and pop fashion — and even Bowie the theologian! This particular aspect of the artist’s life was explored in a piece penned by no less than a Roman Catholic cardinal, Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads up the Vatican’s Council for Culture.
The cleric, clearly a life-long devotee of the south London-born music legend, extolled Bowie’s ability “in a non-churchy way to make the souls of all those with a restless conscience vibrate” and described his music as being “always on the unstable boundary between the sacred and the profane”.
But, as to whether or not Bowie ever came down on one side or the other of that divide, the cardinal could do little more than quote the enigmatic answer given in a 2003 interview when the singer confessed to being “not quite an atheist”.
So many changes
Nevertheless, regardless of Bowie’s ultimate heavenly commitments, the down-to-earth impact of his artistic output was redemptive in a true sense of the word. In the days following the announcement of his death, many fans took to social media to bear witness to how Bowie’s music had metaphorically, and in some cases quite literally, saved their lives.
For example, the American music critic Miles Raymer wrote about being bullied as a child for being “different” and how listening to albums such as ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ kept him afloat through dark and difficult days.
“Seeing someone so gloriously strange revelling in what made him a freak – celebrating his difference and turning it into dazzling art – is inspirational,” said Raymer.
“And the unshakable sensation there’s someone out there who knows you – the real you, the one you may be too scared to show anyone else – is a sustaining force. Sometimes a life-saving one.”
Different today and always
Those sentiments have been repeated in countless other tweets and posts in recent weeks. A quick internet search will uncover many poignant stories of people who were marginalised, maligned and mistreated on account of their perceived ‘otherness’ and yet found in Bowie a way to claim a new dignity and renewed hope.
As one tweeter put it, the singer was “the first great ‘Patron Saint of Weird Kids’ – he made being different a matter of being awesome. Our supposed weaknesses became our strengths, our once so called shortcomings became our most valued traits, and nothing was ever the same again.”
David Bowie – the ‘Patron Saint of Weird Kids’? Sounds good to me. Perhaps Cardinal Ravasi could have a word with his colleagues down the hall in the Vatican’s office for declaring new saints. Stranger things have happened!