David Bowie Tribute: The Time That Bowie Broke the Internet

Passion of the Weiss takes the week to celebrate the life and mourn the death of David Bowie.
By    January 14, 2016

Art by Thuany Gabriela

Drew Millard harvests memes on his viral content farm.

Read the rest of the Bowie Tribute here. 

As I write this, it’s been 48 hours since I found out David Bowie has died, and by the time you read this it will probably be 60 or even 72. That’s dozens of hours, hundreds of minutes, hundreds of thousands of seconds, millions upon millions of sub-micro-nanoseconds, since the news broke that he’d succumbed to cancer. This news first hit the internet via a status posted on his official Facebook account. By now, we’ve had time to process, or at least come to terms with the fact that Bowie, the great unkillable god whose benevolent rule over pop culture and perhaps culture at large was supposed to last the length of a thousand suns—or at least one particularly good evening in someone’s Manhattan apartment that their parents pay for, doing cocaine (that their parents also paid for)—has passed, or become deceased, or shuffled off his mortal coil, or howeverthefuck else you’d like to say it. He’s dead, he’s gone, and the bullies of the world have that much more power, because we have one less person here to stand up to them.

But anyways, the Facebook status, delivered at 10:30 PM Pacific Coast Time, is what we’re talking about here. That and the moment that it happened. His Facebook is linked to his official Twitter, which means that when a post goes to the Facebook, it also goes out to the Twitter at the same time. Though I don’t follow David Bowie on Twitter, something like, “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer” is something that quickly gets retweeted onto one’s timeline, basically immediately after it goes out, because those words are alarming as all goddamn motherfuck.

So what happens on the internet immediately after everyone finds out someone famous has died is everyone gets to showcase the often necessary and cathartic public displays of emotion. This is not what happened on the internet when David Bowie died. Instead, everyone was mad. “OK, bring Ashton out, you Punk’d us,” the entire internet seemed to say for the two minutes following the announcement. It was more likely, we all decided at once, that Bowie’s Facebook had been hacked by some asshole, who decided to use their newfound power to prank the world and make everyone think David Bowie was dead, than it was likely that Bowie had actually died. Then the news posts hit, in which journalists reluctantly reached out to the appropriate parties to acquire the appropriate confirmations, which were summarily supplied with what I will only assume was equal reluctance, and that was that. Or at least it should have been, except some of the people who were convinced it was bullshit hadn’t seen the news posts yet, which led to conflicting reports ping-ponging off one another like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Nile Rodgers on Let’s Dance.

From there, the dialogue on my Twitter timeline went something like this:

Twitter People: He’s dead.

Other Twitter People: Oh no, never mind, it’s a hoax.

Even More Twitter People: The news just reported it.

More Twitter People Still: Well, the news people probably got their info from the Facebook post. Which, as we’ve already established, is a hoax.

Those five minutes were quite fun, or at least fascinating in a morbid way, or at least I get the sense that Bowie, who I did not know, would have maybe possibly found it amusing if he hadn’t missed the whole thing. Then Bowie’s son put the kibosh on the whole party by definitively confirming the death via his Twitter. Then there was nothingness.

Maybe we were projecting Bowie’s penchant for shifting identities, for saying that you were someone else and having it magically be true just because you said it hard and beautifully enough.  Perhaps we were trying to save him by willing his death into falsehood. That’s certainly not raw power, and that was always Iggy’s domain anyway, but it was certainly raw fucking something, and it’s worth remembering and even celebrating.

I’m not quite sure why I’m telling you this, or what this has to do with “Cat People” other than that it was the Bowie song I happened to be listening to when I got to the point in the essay where I was like, “Ah crap I was supposed to write about a specific Bowie song” but look, David Bowie did an incredible amount of shit simply by feel and it feels appropriate to pay tribute to him by doing the same.

Music, or any creative act for that matter, is hard. It requires forging a connection between your thoughts—which often feel normal and logical, even as they sublimate freely between interior monologue and sub-linguistic stuff like intuition and emotion—and like, something else, whether it’s your hands or your mouth. Taking those packets of flotsam and jetsam that exist only in your head and rendering them all with style while managing to figure out how to make people take from the whole what you want them to take is damn near impossible. But David Bowie did it, and he literally did it until the day he died. We did not deserve David Bowie, let alone 69 years of him. Just don’t try to put out the fire with gasoline in his absence.

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