I remember so clearly (like 7 million other people my age) watching Labyrinth when I was 6 years old, over and over and over, the same way I had run The Last Unicorn into the ground the year before. It must have driven my parents nuts. What I remember the most clearly is being really, deeply confused. I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that Sarah would reject the Jareth's offer to turn her brother into a goblin muppet and, I guess, marry her or something. Inside I would be screaming, "Stay there! Don't you want to stay there?! What's wrong with you?" And at the same time knowing full well he was supposed to be the villain and wondering if there was something wrong with me for hoping the ending would magically change and he would win.
But there was nothing wrong with me. The man was magnetic.
I joked about my love for him once I got to graduate school and even drew myself riding on the back of a David Bowie centaur, but I was still confused. I still wasn't really listening to his music even though I liked his popular singles.
It wasn't until his death that I really realized what his role had been in my young life. He had given me permission. A free pass to do whatever-the-fuck-I-wanted artistically. To see the beauty in whomever-the-fuck-I-chose to see it in. And a full grant to do as many different things as I want and not feel like it is thinning my purpose or diffusing my voice. At an early age this confusing lust was a sort of opening up of possibilities that I felt in the center of my ribcage, and at the time, it tasted like a brand-new and somehow fearless fear. "Go ahead," he said, "do it."
There have been other artists who have given me permission (or reminded me of my inherent permission) throughout life, but Bowie was my first, so his death felt very personal.
I don't normally cry when a celebrity passes because I feel like it's not my mourning to do- it's not my right. But I felt like I knew him (which I know is ridiculous), but he was genuine. I cried twice and welled up a few other times. I welled up talking about the fact that I felt ridiculous for crying so much over someone I hadn't met. But we don't need to know someone directly to have been touched by them and what they left behind.
He left us elegantly, in the same way he did everything. Including dancing with muppets.
There was a phrase that kept bobbing around in my head on January 11, so I chose to draw him (probably not for the last time), and I used the phrase that stuck to the inside of my skull as the title:
"I can't believe that's the last I'll hear from you." I really still can't believe it.