David Bowie is Dead. Hmm. There’s a joke by comedian Doug Stanhope that goes something like this; maybe Kurt Cobain didn’t die too young. Maybe he was just out of stuff. can you imagine if Jimmy Hendrix had lived and then you see him doing half-time duets with Elton John, singing Rocket Man. And you’d say, how sad is that, why didn’t he just die? What if Lenny Bruce took over for Andy Rooney, some crusty old man bitching about ATM fees…
This society clings a little, rather, a lot too hard to the quantity of life instead of the quality of it. I’ve had people brag how they never have had a major accident or broken a bone. I’ve broken 11 major bones, excluding most of my fingers and toes, caught a ricochet bullet in the shin, suffered so many concussions that a neurosurgeon friend once said he wouldn’t even guess at a count. The scars on my body are a road map of my life. Car accidents, bike accidents. I’ve been shot at more times than I can count, not to mention being bombed and shelled as well, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’ve written 11 books, published 5, had 2 critically acclaimed plays, and painted artwork that is now all over the world. I’ve done everything, live a war, seen the worst man can do and see the most we are capable of. I’ve fought for the least among us and against injustice without financial reward; and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I strove for experiences, to break out of my comfort zone and to explore fully the spectrum of human emotion. I will carry those in the only suitcase I can carry from this life, happy there isn’t room for anything else in that bag. I’m not David Bowie, but he wasn’t me either.
As for David Bowie’s passing? Funny, yesterday morning, driving the wife to work, I was suddenly in the mood to hear some of his music. Working on the new novel later that morning, I casually explored some of his lesser known work. When the wife announced that he’d died this morning, my first reaction was, well, that’s the end of an era.
One thing is certain, just being born is responsible for more human suffering and carries, by responsible estimation, nearly a 100% mortality rate. Trust me, I spent all night double checking the statistics. Which begs the question of which David Bowie, or you, would you rather have? David Bowie, fans of Ricky Gervais will recall, played a bit part in the TV show Extras, little more than a decade ago. His song parody of Gervais’ character was about not selling out, which Bowie never did.
So, again, which Bowie do you want? How much sadder would it be to see him years from now, hobbled in a wheel chair, oxygen tubes up his nose, bent and mumbling to himself grasping desperately against eternity for every breath, clinging to an ever more distant past in which he is less and less a shadow, or the man who bowed gracefully when he was finished, walking proudly from the stage of life to eternity?
The lesson here is live a life of quality. Experience, suffer, exalt, explore, fail, rise up again in as passionate a life as you can dare. That’s the stuff of our lives. back to Stanhope, “your sins are the only thing that make you interesting!” one of my grandfather’s, many years ago, as he was dying of cancer, remarked to me that being eaten by a bear was the better fate. I put that in my first book 25 years later.
And it’s true. Recall the guy some years back you got killed by an escaped tiger at the San Diego zoo. What happened to Bob? He got eaten by a tiger, in California! Wow, that’s incredible. As opposed to, did you hear about Bob? yeah, after an unfulfilling life as a middle manager in an actuarial firm, all those high calorie lunches finally got the better of him. Died right at his cubicle, just as his divorce was about to be final as well.
Quantity is a beggar’s game, because in the face of eternity, it is meaningless. Quantity is the existential equivalent of a flat line. Take a page from Bowie and good theatre people and know when its time to take a bow, and leave them wanting more. Rock on, David Bowie!