"As a teenager I liked the music this English guy was putting out, and his singular personae: Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, Diamond Dogs," Kurt Andersen remembers. "But it was relatively late David Bowie, 'Young Americans,' released my junior year in college, that really made me a fan. I was a young American! And then a couple of years later, he teamed up with my new favorite, Brian Eno, to make the albums 'Low' and 'Heroes.'"
"I still listen every couple of weeks to the Philip Glass symphonies based on Bowie's 'Heroes' and 'Low' albums. Right at the time 'The Low Symphony' came out, in 1993, my wife and I were co-hosting a small party to celebrate a friend's book. That afternoon, my wife happened to meet Mrs. Bowie, Iman, who said David was interested in the author and could they come to the book party? Amazingly, they did. He was intelligent, gracious, funny ... a hero who did not disappoint."
Bowie was a hero to many — including poet Tracy K. Smith. She never met Bowie, but his music had a profound impact on her. In 2012, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a collection called "Life on Mars." In it is this poem about Bowie:
"Don't You Wonder Sometimes" — Tracy K. Smith
After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being - a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure
That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?
Would I put on coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he'll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired
And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I'm forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I'll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.
He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That's Bowie
For you: the Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he's trademarked twice. The hours
Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.
Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?
The future isn't what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.
Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he's hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
he's in no rush. Doesn't feel
The way you'd think he feels.
Doesn't strut or gloat. Tells jokes.
I've lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I'll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He's got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions
When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
SHINE SHINE SHINE SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before the rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
(Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press)