The phone on the pillow next to me chimed in the dark. A text from a friend, letting me know David Bowie was gone. I hoped, for a second, that I was still dreaming. A moment of desperate denial before the pang of deep loss set in. We talked for a while and I went to brush my teeth, take a shower, go through the motions of every ordinary morning, keenly aware that the world is less today. I was just listening to Blackstar, his new album, last night; couldn’t have imagined I’d start the next day finding out it was his last album, too.

I’ve had a few hours to process now, and what I’m left with is the overwhelming feeling of a debt that can never be repaid. As a man and as an artist, Bowie meant so much to me. I remember being a confused kid, out of place and weird, and discovering Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie didn’t make it okay to be weird. He did better than that: he made it cool. And other performers who tried to ride his style didn’t get the point: he was cool because he was effortlessly, truly himself.

That authenticity is a powerful lesson for any artist. I remember the start of my publishing career, when a friend had read the drafts of the first two Faust novels. “Don’t you think you might want to…tone it down, some?” he’d asked. “I mean, between the violence and the sex and the darkness, this isn’t for everybody. You could make it a lot more marketable. Don’t you at least want to use a pen name?”

I thought about that. And I listened to some Bowie. That’s when I decided, no, I didn’t want to be “marketable” – I wanted to tell true stories. And I put my name on them, because my books are who I am. Know what? Things turned out just fine.

Bowie’s work shaped mine in so many ways I can barely begin to count. There’s Ziggy, of course, and the Let’s Dance album both shaped my memory of the eighties and my concept of cool. Labyrinth and The Hunger sparked my budding writer’s imagination, and The Man Who Fell to Earth taught me how a work of fiction can leave you devastated. David Bowie’s music and his filmography have left their fingerprints across my life and my work, and I can’t find the words to say how grateful I am.

But when Prince Sitri finally makes a personal appearance in my books, you know he’ll have Bowie’s eyes.

Comment