I still have the clock-radio I received for Christmas in 1980. One morning, in Roxbury, Massachusetts, it woke me with news radio station WEEI-AM announcing that my friends Kitty and Peter had been arrested in Maine while smuggling 24 tons of marijuana. That startled me into the morning and I was wide awake.
On this day, last year, it woke me as it has done for most of the last 35+ years: with news. On this particular day it was in Brooklyn, New York, and the NPR station, WNYC-AM, was airing Morning Edition. The announcer’s voice stated clearly, concisely, and without even a touch of emotion that “rock star David Bowie died overnight, he was 69.”
I remembered hearing my phone beep and jingle much earlier, but I’d ignored it because nobody actually called. I assumed they were alerts from social media, or my broker, or a creditor. When I looked, however, they were mostly text messages from people in Europe (mostly England).
You were dead! David Bowie was dead.
I couldn’t recall the last time I’d heard you were dead. I think it was NEVER. This was a first. Again. And I had no idea you were setting yet another trend by departing this mortal coil. The weeks and months that followed saw scores of culturally significant humans also die. Always ahead of the curve, you are. They were just copying you!
I was numb. I called nobody, I responded to no messages, I don’t know what I did. When 7:00 AM passed, the phone started ringing and the text messages poured in.
I don’t know whom I spoke to first: Liz, my sister, my daughter . . . it’s a bit of a blur. It wasn’t you, that’s for sure. You were dead.
I’m not sure what happens when you die, so I don’t know if you’ve seen what a great time we’ve had since your passing. All kinds of tribute shows and parties. My goodness! You left quite a legacy and everyone wants to jump in and enjoy it. Did you see Perry Farrell sing “Rebel Rebel”? Wow!
There’s a tribute show at Terminal 5 tonight. A great line-up (basically your band). Tons of tickets available because it’s such a crap venue. You can skip this one. I am. If you know anyone who needs a ticket, send them my way: I have plenty!
Anyway, I wrote you a letter that day (January 11, 2016), but you never responded. That’s not like you, so I guess you really are dead.
Last year I said my life would be slightly less amusing without you. That has proven to be true; but I got a little frame . . . something cheap . . . for you.
I do not know many people who lived so long. Neither of my parents lived to seventy. My father died at 51 and my mother was 65. None of my grandparents made it to seventy: my maternal grandmother was 42, my maternal grandfather 47, my paternal grandmother 57, and my paternal grandfather was 62. Some aunts made it to 70, but not many of my uncles did.
Throughout my life, young people I knew died of drug overdoses or violence. As a young man, the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances died of AIDS. It's really only be recently that I've known people who died of age-related illness.
Me? I will be 59 soon, so I have over a decade to go before I enjoy the beginning of my 8th decade.
At my 35th birthday party, a sibling (or two) remarked that they never thought I'd live so long.
At my 40th birthday party, I was a couple of years sober and dating the woman who would become my ex-wife.
At my 45th birthday, I received a snow globe collection from friends and acquaintances all over the world.
At my 50th birthday party, I was the father of a toddler and my home was filled with people.
I haven't really had a party since then. Fifty-five just didn't seems like an anniversary to celebrate. I have no plans to have a party for my 59th birthday.
Maybe I'll celebrate my 60th birthday in 2018. Maybe not. I guess my birthday parties have really been celebrations made by other people. So, I probably won't be the person who decides if I do or that and that is OK with me.
Today, however, I will celebrate the 70th anniversary of David Bowie's birth.
I have two distinct memories of celebrating David Bowie's birthday in the past: In 1997, I attended the 50th Birthday Bash at Madison Square Garden. Last year, in 2016, I joined Tony Visconti and the Holy Holy audience at Highline Ballroom to sing Happy Birthday to him over Visconti's iPhone. None of us knew that 69th birthday would be our last opportunity to sing to him: