I first became aware of David Bowie when I was a fourteen year old in high school, in those endless battles we had across lunchroom tables over which band was great and which band, frankly, sucked. We were teenagers. We didn't know from shades of grey. To us, so incandescently young and so very cloistered by years and years of Catholic School, Catholic Nuns, and Catholic Mothers of WWII vintage (God bless them), and only beginning to realize there was something called FM, where they played whole album sides at a time, almost nothing in the Top 40, and talked about Rock and Roll like it was life itself, David Bowie was quite a shock. With his Diamond Dogs look of androgyny cultivated like pearls, he seemed a bit of a freak, and often got called far worse by children like us who scarcely knew the meaning of the insults we hurled at him because he didn't seem to fit in any of the categories we knew.
So a freak he seemed. And yet his blazing talent forced my eyes open, and compelled me to look into the heart of the sun that was his music. Whatever he looked like, whatever he played at, he could not be denied. One stunning, powerful performance after another, one masterful song after another flung into my uncomprehending, awestruck schoolboy face. Songs of beauty, works of art, anthems of raving youth. And they never stopped coming until last January.
So a freak he seemed. So what. He was Bowie. And in the end he was no more a freak than the rest of us. Much less so in fact.
Everybody knows how they first saw Carrie Fisher. In the first scene she is ensuring that the all important plans to the Death Star escape her doomed ship, in the second she is shooting it out with the bad guys, in the third she stands fearlessly up to someone who could break her body like a twig. So, clever and determined, putting first things first, unflinching and intrepid, not just a pretty face (as pretty as she was). This was no window-dressing damsel in distress. This was no one's Disney Princess.
Her own life was full of far more upheaval and turmoil than her most famous character's, though given her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder, there were surely days when it felt like someone had blown up her whole planet. But her performance as Leia evidently drew on strengths she didn't know she had yet, and she fought her way through to the other side of her troubles. For the many in this world -- and of course there were thousands of Star Wars fans among them -- who shared the same troubles, Carrie Fisher was a success and a model. And if we looked at her from far away, paying attention in after years perhaps only because she had been that Princess, still we smiled and nodded and were glad. We took comfort in her winning through. For women she clearly meant far more than I could ever grasp. I wouldn't even dare try to express it. But I don't have to. Their voices are loud and clear enough. If you can't hear them, you're not listening.
I am not sure if what I've written here explains, even to myself, why I will miss David Bowie and Carrie Fisher more than so many of the others. He enabled me to see music differently, and see that differences of appearance, whether parts of the act or parts of the person, are essentially meaningless. She did not so much make me see women differently as she made me see that I was right to see them differently. I was already a bit of an oddity on that score: I was a teenage boy who actually wanted to talk to girls and hear what they had to say.
There's a photo on my dresser of someone from those days. Every day when I sit down on the edge of my bed to take off my shoes, I look at it and sigh and miss her. That's the way I'm thinking of David Bowie and Carrie Fisher as this year goes down into shadow.
They were heroes.