David Bowie Tribute: “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” as Coping Mechanism

Passion of the Weiss takes the week to celebrate the life and mourn the death of David Bowie.
By    January 13, 2016

Art by Mark Vitullo

Read the rest of David Bowie Tribute Week here. 

Brian Josephs is wondering what David Bowie and Freddie Mercury are up to.

I discovered David Bowies music the same way many black kids in Brooklyn have: with Bad Boy rhyming over it and Biggie doing his Lisa Stansfield impression. Some of us realized Lets Dancewas a better record; Bowies unabashed passion was more compelling than disaffected cool. We were then sucked into the Thin White Dukes mythos and eventually got to its glittering center: 1972s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

How does one write about a piece of art released decades before hes born, and what is there to add when theres already thousands of pages lauding one of our greatest musicians greatest album? Lets start with a fact: People dreamt in 1972, and they still do in 2016. Ziggy Stardusts tale sticks because of how incandescent the fantasy is. The hook of Moonage Daydreamis composed of sci-fi imagery thats cartoonish on paper. Here, its not about the fictional elements but the sense of ecstasy they birth. Bowies power lies in his ability to will abstractions into shared, wholly human experiences.

Even with all its highs, Bowies opus doesnt quite work without Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.Ziggy Stardust is, by nature, free from sex, gender, and religious constraints. And yet hes still your typical rock nroll burnout. But the acoustic denouement morphs into another peak and Bowie starts working those vocal pipes. Theres the orchestral crescendo and the regal backing vocals as Bowie makes his final pleas: You’re not alone/Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful.Its delivered with a force that breaks the loose, narrative fourth wall; he could be talking to Stardust or the audience. Or maybe the titular alien is the audience, an amalgam of their fantasies and the humanity that binds them.

I had Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Lets Danceon consistent rotation in the weeks leading up to Blackstar. After Bowies death, I immediately returned to putting Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicideon repeat. The song wasnt my go-to motivational track, but at that moment, it was a coping mechanism. We had forgotten David Bowie was a human being. He just was. You feel that somethings amiss in the universe after such a loss. But the fact that he was a human adds further importance to his work.

Perhaps its time we take a break from believing David Bowie is this otherworldly figure and start looking at him as an ambassador of human potential. Theres his decades-long metamorphosis, and theres the fact that he stood up for black artists. He had nothing to gain in that 1983 interview where he called out MTV for not playing black artists. The media must be fair; they, too, had potential because they were human. Race, sexual orientation, or what-have-you shouldnt deny you of realizing it, and the existence of Bowie as this empathetic figure embodied this principle. If only he was Lazarus.


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