I wrote the excerpt below a few days ago on this blog never dreaming we’d have to lose David Bowie. How could we lose him? As a child, Norah watched Labyrinth too many times to count rented from the beloved Video Journeys. Her big brother dressed liked Bowie and played his songs on the piano, and I mean played – banged them out singing full volume to where it was pointless to have a conversation – we just fell into the music even as piano benches splintered from enthusiastic playing. A Bowie’s Greatest Hits album was often on loop in our beat-up Toyota Van where Norah spent many hours in a carseat studying teenagers from her four-year-old perspective. And in my mind, The Man Who Fell to Earth, also played against the backdrop of a shabby living room filled with costumes, cleats, rackets, balls, record player, books, dog bed, finch cage, hermit crab (sometimes on the loose) cats, dogs, and saggy couches that I always tried to make sit up straight and look like a couch and not an explosion.
It never worked.
This is what I wrote here a few days ago my China memoir, Laurie Anderson in the Rice Fields.
When our youngest child, Norah, was six and experiencing a lot of David Bowie in the house through film, CD, and Flannery’s Ziggy Stardust Halloween costume, she asked, “Momma, is David Bowie God?”
I said, “No. Why would you think that?”
She replied, “Well, I’ve never seen God, and I’ve never seen David Bowie either, but he’s everywhere.” Flannery, sixteen at the time, assured her that yes, David Bowie was God and so was Lou Reed, too. The middle child, Lucy, fourteen, probably rolled her eyes at the rock ‘n roll catechism lesson, but Lucy will tell you that I always have her rolling her eyes at something her brother did or said, so maybe she simply shrugged. Maybe she said, “David Bowie is definitely NOT God, Norah.”
* * *
I received a text from Lucy yesterday morning and it all is said was: David Bowie 😦
I went looking for pictures of the kids dressed as Bowie and put them on Facebook. Here they are again.
There are more – many more but these capture them. David Bowie was part of my teen years, but he was so cool, and I was not a cool girl. I was a girl who lived in fear of doing the wrong thing so I did the right things like student council, field hockey, track, golf, and a little theatre and a lot of church. I listened to Simon & Garfunkle and John Denver.
But when Flannery and Lucy hit their teen years, they brought back David Bowie into the fabric of our daily lives. We had to search for Ziggy Stardust wigs and find David Bowie Christmas presents. I listened to his music like i hadn’t done enough when I was a teenager though he was always there. And then Norah grew up and wanted to be Bowie too. She dyed Flannery’s old mullet wig that he wore from William H. Macy’s Boogie Nights‘ character. Her teacher, Mr. Flynn, loved her costume and said it made him so happy because Aladdin Sane was the album of his youth, and yesterday Norah said Mr. Flynn was so very sad in the hallways at school.
Anyway, so yesterday in spite of the sadness, I returned to my children’s novel, Vulcan, and I struggled with the characters to re-enter a world I have never lived and tried imagine Vulcan as a character and this girl, Millie-Graciella. It is so hard, but I spent hours and hours fiddling, and today I’m going to spend another day with her and another day tomorrow, and I will find a way to fight the fear and embrace not knowing what I’m doing.
In the Proust questions, Bowie was asked:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Living in fear.
So let’s leave fear at the door for now.
* * *
This is the first letter Millie-Graciella writes to Vulcan. (Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and the forge. The statue of Vulcan stands atop Red Mountain overlooking the city of Birmingham, Alabama. The largest cast iron statue in the world, Vulcan weighs 50 tons and stands 56 feet tall.)
I see you from my window everyday standing up there – a big giant statue on Red Mountain. Can you hear me? I want to ask you a question. What are you afraid of? I’m scared of these things:
- Cockroaches that fly like baby bats
- First day of school, second day of school, third day of …
- Fat tornadoes in a yellow sky
- What if Ganny dies?
- What if the banshee in the woods is coming for Ganny? Or is it La Llorona, a Mexican banshee? It’s probably an Irish banshee.
- A new law about being “illegal” in Alabama.
- Kids who ask – “What are you anyhow? White or Mexican? Boy or girl?”
- Brown recluse spiders that run across your bed in the night.
- Wondering how long Poppa will be gone?
- Why is Poppa illegal? He seems legal enough to me.
- What if Poppa never comes home?
P.S. I live in a crappy apartment on 29th Court South, Apt A next to the fire station by the woods where the blackberries grow at the bottom of Red Mountain. You can’t miss it in case you ever want to come down and visit. The landlord of our apartment complex drives a big red truck, and Poppa calls him “The Landlord of Good Intentions” because anytime anything breaks he waves from his truck and yells, “I’ll be back to fix it. I have good intentions!”