As I write this, it was about eight hours from now a year ago when I learned of the sad passing of one of my music heroes, David Bowie. I had the TV on to help me sleep, and the news of his death woke me up from a deep sleep. Later that day, I posted my first-ever blog post.
Three months and two days after learning of David’s passing, his face and his words (“We could be heroes just for one day”) became my first-ever tattoo – at age 49. If you had asked me on January 1, 2016, if I would ever get a tattoo, I would have told you no. Turns out that David Bowie had more influence on my life than I had expected or known.
As my Mom pointed out to me earlier today, David passed away on the same day of the birthday of my late grandfather, Thurman Berry (my Mom’s dad). My Grampy Berry died in 2002 and would have been 97 a year ago today. I miss them both.
Seems like the appeal and influence of David Bowie was bigger than others had expected too. His brilliant album, BLACKSTAR, released on his 69th birthday and just two days before his death, became David’s first No. 1 album here in the U.S., and reached No. 1 in at least a whopping (and deserved) 22 other countries.
With vinyl records making a sweet comeback, the vinyl version of BLACKSTAR was the second-biggest selling physical record album of 2016 here in America, and just missed out on being the biggest vinyl album of the year by only a couple thousand records. That vinyl version of BLACKSTAR also had a special gift left by Mr. Bowie himself.
Four months after David’s death, it was discovered that, in certain conditions (like leaving the album jacket out in the sun), the black star ended up revealing an image of a galaxy. So, the Starman leaves us a galaxy of stars by way of one BLACKSTAR. Brilliant, much like David himself.
Sadly, David’s wasn’t the only heavy-hitting celebrity death of 2016. There would be many, many more, continuing later that week with another cool, classy and gifted 69-year-old Brit, Alan Rickman, and the list went on and on throughout the year, including Prince on April 21st, George Michael on Xmas Day, and Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds, one day apart in the last week of the year.
I’ve had David’s music on my iPod for an entire year. Usually at some point, I switch out all the songs on the iPod for different ones, and I’ve done that to an extent, but not with David’s music. I kinda still think he’s here, you know? Another loss in 2016 – this one more personal – my parents had to say goodbye to their 13-year-old Shih Tzu, Bandit, a week before Xmas. I feel like he’s still around too.
2016 was a cruel year to be a music and pop culture fan, but it also made me think about my own life and my own future, you know? I turn 50 in about a month and I’m often told I look like I’m in my 30s. I’ll take it. But, I also have to remember to not take my youthful looks for granted, to remind myself that I’m not in my 30s, to take care of myself, and to live life to the fullest, or at the very least, try, because you never know when it’ll be gone.
Not to sound too morbid, but when it’s my time, I do not wish to be buried, but instead, cremated. Being born in Bar Harbor, Maine, I’ve always had a strong connection to the ocean, and I want a third of my ashes scattered in the ocean and at the Seawall Picnic Area (part of Acadia National Park here in Maine), my favorite spot in the whole world, and a third scattered in the ocean and at Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, my second favorite spot in Maine.
My reasoning for being cremated over being buried? Well, instead of some gravestone marker with my name and dates of birth and death on it, my family and friends can just go to the Atlantic Ocean and I’ll be there, whether you’re in Maine, Jersey, Florida or Ireland. It won’t be depressing, but lovely and therapeutic I think. Go to the ocean and say HI. I may or may not respond, but I’ll always be there. I can’t tell you how excited I get to spend some time near the ocean, and it’s always lovely and therapeutic to me.
As for the other third of my ashes, I’d read somewhere years ago that you can take your cremated ashes and somehow have them incorporated into the making of a record album. It’s not cheap, I don’t know if they would need all the ashes and I don’t know if I could ever afford that when the time comes (hopefully not for awhile!), but with music being such an integral part of most of my life, it’s not only downright cool, but feels right. I could say something nerdy or funny on the record and you could play a couple of my favorite tunes.
With it being the first anniversary of the passing of David Bowie from one universe to another, and talk about death and ashes, his brilliant 1980 gem, “Ashes To Ashes” seems appropriate as my FOREVER YOUNG “song of the day” today.
“Ashes To Ashes” was the first single from David Bowie’s 14th studio album (and his last for RCA), SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS) (or SCARY MONSTERS for short), and released a month in advance of the album.
The lyrics of the song revisit the character of Major Tom, introduced in Bowie’s first global hit, 1969’s “Space Oddity.” In a 1980 interview, David described “Ashes To Ashes” as “very much a 1980s nursery rhyme. I think 1980s nursery rhymes will have a lot to do with the 1880s/1890s nursery rhymes which are all rather horrid and had little boys with their ears being cut off and stuff like that.” For him personally, David would later say that with the song, he was “wrapping up the seventies really, [which] seemed a good enough epitaph for it.”
The music video for “Ashes To Ashes” cost over $500,000 to make, which, at the time, was the most expensive video ever made, and remains as one of the most expensive videos ever. Keep in mind this was a year before MTV debuted.
But, the video was popular and seemed to work. “Ashes To Ashes” debuted at No. 4 on the U.K. singles chart and reached No. 1 a week later, his fastest-selling single to that point. It spent two weeks at No. 1, was certified Silver, and was his second U.K. No. 1 single, following a 1975 reissue of “Space Oddity.” Around the globe, it reached the Top 10 in Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, and the Top 20 in at least four other countries.
“Ashes To Ashes” has seen a plethora of cover versions over the years, many of them since the year 2000. My favorite cover version of “Ashes To Ashes” is a 1992 version by Tears For Fears. To celebrate 40 years of the NEW MUSIC EXPRESS (NME) publication, a three-disc charity set called RUBY TRAX was released, containing 40 covers of (mostly) No. 1 U.K. hits by popular artists of the time.
The Tears For Fears cover of this song is so good, the first time I heard it (many years after its release), I didn’t realize it was Tears For Fears until the first line of the second verse. Even now, it takes me a moment to distinguish the cover from the original.
With a piece of trivia that still stuns me to this day, “Ashes To Ashes” just missed reaching the BILLBOARD Hot 100 (peaking at No. 101). I guess I’ll never understand why this incredible song didn’t find an audience here. Maybe that’s another reason why David left RCA. Hard to say all these years later.
What I can say with some amount of certainty is that I considered myself as a big fan of David Bowie while he was alive, but with his death, something changed inside of me. Some of it I’m still trying to figure out. It’s all positive, though, and that’s the only way I can describe how I feel now without looking up what I wrote a year ago.
As I know I’ve previously said in this forum, and I’m not sorry for repeating it here, I was lucky enough to be on the same planet as David Bowie for nearly 50 years, and that’s pretty damn cool…still.