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The Nobituary: David Bowie

Grantland got a tip that David Bowie was dying. He did not. Here are the e-mails exchanged by two of our writers on his legacy while he (happily) stayed alive.

On the morning of June 27, 2012, Grantland editor Sean Fennessey received a tip that suggested David Bowie was near death. The source of the tip had proven reliable in the past (most notably with the passing of Nora Ephron). It was decided that Alex Pappademas and Chuck Klosterman should e-mail back and forth about Bowie’s legacy, the transcript of which Grantland would publish immediately after he died (we assumed this would be very soon — perhaps that same day). Pappademas and Klosterman started their conversation that afternoon, unsure about the best way this kind of thing should be handled.

But then something strange and wonderful happened: Bowie lived.

What follows is the (mostly unedited) text of their conversation, stretching over seven months and more than 15,000 words. Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, will be released tomorrow. We are happy that things worked out the way they did.

Part 1: June 2012

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at 2:50 p.m.
Subject: might as well start, eh?

I’m finding the death of David Bowie unusually disturbing [EDITOR’S NOTE: BOWIE IS NOT DEAD]. When Adam Yauch died in May, it was common for (white) people born during the ’70s to argue that his particular passing was the first pop death that truly felt “close,” because they’d almost grown up with him and experienced his musical (and personal) evolution in real time. It wasn’t like (for example) George Harrison’s death, because Harrison — a ’60s artist, defined by black-and-white photographs and galvanized myths — had always seemed historically distant. He’d always seemed old. But the death of Bowie is more disorienting than either of those guys. He never seemed real or unreal, which I unconsciously equate with immortality.

I mean, I can remember when Adam Yauch was (for lack of a better term) “new,” so I always viewed him as human. There was never anything unworldly about him. Conversely, George Harrison was exclusively unworldly. His apex as an artist happened during a time I can only read about and imagine and attempt to re-create in my mind. But David Bowie falls into a nebulous middle category: For all those under the age of 45, Bowie was just there when you first became aware that popular culture was something to think about. He didn’t seem to be any age; it feels like he should subsist in static perpetuity. He was the first person to become a rock star in the era when rock music was not a new, radical, non-universal thing. He was working as a total original in an art form that was no longer limitless and undefined, and that forced him to be more intellectually creative than he already was. The fact that no one understood precisely what he was doing made him easier to understand, somehow. Bowie invented this insane state of being, and the planet just collectively thought, Yes. This is what we want. It’s like he was here just to do that (even though no one had asked for it, or even knew what to ask for).

You know, everyone still uses the term “rock star” incessantly, even though rock stars no longer exist. The idea of the rock star is a constant in our mental culture, but not as an element of our hard reality. Calling someone a “rock star” is like calling someone a “door-to-door salesman” — we all know what it means and we all know what it signifies, but no one occupies its literal designation. Instead, we say things like, “Game designers are the new rock stars” or “Bike messengers are the new rock stars.” However, there are no rock stars becoming the new rock stars. That’s over. The term is just an abstraction that connotes a specific type of public perception. And it’s astounding how much of that specific abstraction is still a straightforward portrait of what David Bowie built in 1972. I realize he based the Ziggy Stardust persona on all these crazy, forgotten weirdoes he met throughout the ’60s, but none of them are remotely similar to Bowie’s performative vision. It’s almost like he made a linguistic leap: “These kinds of artists create a sense of alienation, which means they are figurative aliens, which I will choose to perceive as a literal alien from outer space. And this alien will be obsessed with all the things I am obsessed with, because the alien is still me.” It wasn’t a reinvention, which everyone likes to claim. It was an invention.

From: Alex Pappademas
To: Chuck Klosterman
Date: Wednesday, June 27, 2012, at 4:37 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

Yes. Every obit’s going to have the word “chameleonic” in the first sentence; he’ll go down in history, the way Madonna will, as somebody who continually and restlessly reinvented himself. Cue inevitable montage set to “Changes.” (I feel, about “Changes” and its inevitable role in Bowie-mourning, the way Sarah Vowell felt about “My Way” being Sinatra’s epitaph — I have no hope that it won’t be the official Bowie-died song, but I don’t have to like it. Give me “Five Years,” give me “Sound and Vision,” give me “Time,” give me “Heroes” — “Heroes” over a Bowie-tribute montage would make me bawl like a ch-ch-ch-child.)

But you’re right — the reinventions aren’t the point. What’s important is that he foregrounded those reinventions and made them explicit and unambiguous. He introduced the idea that an obviously contrived persona could be as much a part of the theatrics of rock performance as anything a rock star did physically or musically. That an invented self could be rhetorical costuming, a silver-glitter fiction-spacesuit that would allow you to say something about the world, or your own navel, that for whatever reason would sound weird or implausible coming from the “real you.” And that you didn’t even have to act like it wasn’t a contrivance. Bob Dylan did that — or at least, he didn’t discourage people from taking his claims about himself at face value — but with Bowie, the thrill was knowing that he was playing a part, that he obviously wasn’t from space or black or gay or the King of the Goblins, but that pretending to be those things allowed him to articulate what it was like to be David Bowie at the moment he was pretending to be them. And this spoke to people because everybody feels trapped by the dumb identity they were born with. On the one hand, post–Sasha Fierce and Slim Shady and Jack White and Rick Ross (and Madonna) (and Lady Gaga) this all seems totally routine now; it’s in the groundwater of pop. Your pretensions are your art. Everybody’s an avatar. And yet we’re still having debates about “authenticity” and delighting as a culture in fact-checking the lies people tell about themselves in songs, so I don’t know.

To go back to that Dylan comparison, because Dylan’s maybe the only other solo-artist peer of Bowie’s who “matters” on this level: Dylan’s the more conventional-wisdom “important” artist, but he’s been absorbed into the fabric of pop as a collection of gestures and tics — people influenced by Bob Dylan tend to sound like Bob Dylan — whereas Bowie’s legacy is this much bigger and more far-reaching idea about the role of gesture in pop music, which has emboldened and enabled a ton of people who may not even consider themselves Bowie disciples.

I always took it for granted that Bowie didn’t have a fixed identity. The first Bowie album I ever owned was a cassette of Changesbowie, the Rykodisc greatest-hits collection, which is a totally disorienting unstuck-in-time whirlwind tour of the canon up to 1990 — here’s space hippie Bowie orbiting the Earth in a tin can, here’s the Thin White Duke throwing darts in lovers’ eyes, here’s that weird r-r-r-r-remix of “Fame” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. And the second Bowie album I ever owned was Young Americans, the “plastic soul” album, the one where he’s pretending to be a black British homosexual man in love with American soul music, or so I’d read. The forks were the road, to me.

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Thursday, June 28, 2012, at 8:41 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

You write, “I always took for granted that Bowie didn’t have a fixed identity,” and — in an explicit sense — that’s obviously true. But sometimes I feel like he did. Yes, he constantly toggled through this menagerie of characters. But wasn’t his central identity inevitably the same? It was always some version of, “I’m a bizarre, forward-thinking, consciously artificial life force.” I think this is why he was better at these inventions than everyone else: There were unifying elements across all his constructions. They did not feel forced. He never became someone who didn’t seem like David Bowie. And I know we shouldn’t talk about “authenticity” here, because (a) that subject tends to derail everything else, and (b) we’re now supposed to pretend like it doesn’t matter. But it DOES matter, and I think critics who refuse to worry about authenticity are actively ignoring something profound. The problem is that people misapply the term. Authenticity is not about literal honesty. If an artist says, “I’m a fake person who makes fake art as an extension of my fake experience within a fake world,” I view that artist as deeply real. And I’m not arguing that this is how David Bowie thought about himself, because I have no idea how he thought about himself. But it’s how I thought of him. I think he was way more authentic than most rock musicians.

Here’s something I’d be curious to get your opinion on: Bowie is the most important glam artist of all time. His work (along with T. Rex and Slade) defines what the genre is. Bowie represents the entire glam ideal. But what was “the glam ideal,” exactly? If somebody asked you “What was glam rock about?” what would you say? If I asked you “What was David Bowie’s music about?” how would you respond? I’ve been reading this memoir Apathy for the Devil by Nick Kent, a pop writer who was really into Bowie (and particularly Bowie’s relationship to Iggy Pop). At one point, Kent writes about how much he hated the Eagles in 1975: “Their music was as comfortable and reassuring to mainstream America as slipping on a pair of old slippers. It didn’t challenge its audience on any level or promote alternative lifestyles.” Now, he’s clearly trying to create this binary relationship between glam rock and California rock, and he’s suggesting that the latter was worthless (because nothing was at stake). But — as a musician — what ideas was Bowie forwarding, exactly? Like, what are we supposed to take away from a song like “Cracked Actor”? That’s it’s merely interesting? That this is how art should be? I feel like it’s something much bigger, but I’m having a difficult time explaining what that something is.

Obviously, there are qualities we always associate with glam rock: androgyny, openness to bisexuality, the import of youth, a glamorization of drugs, etc. If you wanted to be reductionist, I suppose you could just argue that glam (and Bowie) embraced the idea of style over substance in a subversive context. But why was that so important? Because I feel like it was.

From: Alex Pappademas
To: Chuck Klosterman
Date: Monday, July 2, 2012, at 1:21 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

I would like to answer your question about “Cracked Actor” by not answering your question about “Cracked Actor” in any way. I’m having a hard time actually having this conversation.

We should probably say right here that it’s July 2, 2012, and as of right this second as far as we both know — although I’ve been off Twitter and e-mail for the last hour or so — David Bowie is still alive. We’re having a conversation about David Bowie to be published in the event of his death.

Which we know is coming. And not the way we know that everybody’s death is coming, that someday, rich man or beggar, God’s gonna call us home or Xenu’s gonna fly us all into the volcano — we had a tip. There was a reliable source who said David Bowie was dying, and soon. This person had supposedly just been right about Nora Ephron, way before Liz Smith was wrong-but-then-right about Nora Ephron. This person was highly placed in some ailing-celebrity inner circle. There’d been that sidebar in the Rolling Stone cover story a couple months ago, about how Bowie hadn’t been “making the scene” on a Random Notes kind of level lately. You could call it, if you wanted to: Jann Wenner owns Us Weekly, and Us Weekly totally has enough tentacles that somebody’s gotta be picking up Bowie-about-to-die info if it’s out there, maybe even pictures of him looking rough, who knows, but Jann wants to respect Bowie’s privacy as Bowie’s on his way out because it’s Bowie.

Either way: Bowie’s death, we were told, waits. Like an old roué. And not out there in the fog of the ambiguous future but right around the corner, maybe on the way home from the sushi place, or wherever it is that David Bowie walks to.

(Where does David Bowie walk to? Does he still own his own mountain? I guess he still lives in New York when he’s not there, right? And yet I find it hard to imagine David Bowie walking anywhere in New York City, although I assume he does. The only ’70s glam/protopunk-identified person I ever saw walking around New York while I lived there was Lou Reed, and I saw him walking around and eating sushi and looking like a scared Lou Reed puppet so many times that he became a quasi-worthless sighting, the way seeing Steve Buscemi becomes a non-event for people who live in the part of Brooklyn where Steve Buscemi lives, or at least something you know only rubes get excited about, whether or not it actually makes you excited.)

(One of the reasons I like living in Los Angeles now is that the “non-collectible” famous-person sightings are different. Ava Crowder from Justified is at the dog park all the time and at first I was totally excited about this and now it’s just like “Oh, yeah, there she is again. That dog sure loves running around on dirt.” PS: Try to imagine Bowie owning a dog, walking it outside on the street, getting almost all the way out the door and then realizing he’s forgotten to bring a fistful of poop bags or his cell phone or his wallet or whatever. It’s almost harder to imagine that than it is to imagine a world where he’s dead.)

Assuming imminence, you and I agreed to do this e-mail dialogue. It was our idea; I think Sean Fennessey was just giving us the heads-up, expecting us to both be ready with some fake off-the-cuff remarks in the quiver as soon as the news broke. But instead we actually started having the conversation. Or we tried to. (You did a good job on your side of the dialogue. I liked that thing about “rock star” being a label we apply to everyone except people who play rock music. I was kind of like, “Fuck, that’s too good, I don’t have any Bowie stuff that good.”)

And then he didn’t die.

Days went by, and no word of David Bowie dying.

I’ve been acting like it’s a thing that’s going to happen.

You know that Jenn — who I will identify here as my wife for the benefit of people reading this, even though you know her and know that she’s my wife — met David Bowie when she was a baby? Her mom snuck backstage at a Bowie concert in Philadelphia in ’73 or ’74. It’s possible David Bowie actually held her in his weird, skinny arms — she doesn’t remember, she was pre-conscious, a fat, pink blob with a silver smear of Aladdin Sane makeup across one eye. She’s always had a thing about Bowie forever because of that, thinks about her mom and dad whenever “Kooks” comes on. I had to, like, break this news to Jenn that David Bowie was dying, Chuck.

But because he wasn’t actually dead, I couldn’t even, really, give her the opportunity to feel feelings about somebody’s life and work and the way it’s touched your own that a famous person’s actual death offers you — that unique, like, solipsism coupon that the death of a famous person represents, where you get to feel sad about them and awesome about all that they achieved and meant to you, stuff like that. So she was both bummed out by knowing this fact and mad at me for forcing her to feel something technically false about David Bowie. I basically Dr. Spaceman-ed her: “He’s dead … ” “Oh, no.” “Tired. David Bowie is dead tired.”

I think I’m having trouble with this self-imposed thought experiment for that same reason. I’m unable to think over the Bowie career as a finite narrative because he’s not really dead.

I didn’t think this was going to be a problem. I thought that basically there would be nothing about his death, when it finally happened, that would change the content of any kind of obituaric writing about Bowie, y’know? I figured it was already kind of a closed case. I guarantee you that if the New York Times has an obituary or some kind of career-spanning postmortem David Bowie arts-section story on file right now, waiting for him to die, something fucking insane would have to happen for that story to change in a significant way. Bowie would have to get eaten by a shark and somehow Iman would have to be involved in him falling into the shark tank. I know you don’t watch Saturday Night Live, but you’re probably aware of the sketch with Dana Carvey as Tom Brokaw pretaping a bunch of Gerald Ford deaths and running through every way he could possibly die, like being torn apart by a mountain lion and hit by a meteor. Bowie is in that hit-by-a-meteor category. Barring some kind of 9/11-level cataclysmically game-changing news event (e.g., Eastern Seaboard of the United States obliterated by tsunami, claiming millions of lives, including Bowie’s), what would have to happen for a David Bowie obituary written today, in July, to be rendered not current? Bowie emerges from seclusion, decides that he’s not yet “said all he had to say” with Tin Machine, and cuts an album that critics almost universally agree is “at least as good as Low and totally better than Lodger“?

My problem isn’t that doing this ahead of time is totally disrespectful of his life, and of human life in general. It is, but it’s also just a part of journalism. Like, a part of actual journalism. We have a mutual friend whose father was a newspaper reporter and a film critic. Long after he left the paper he’d still get the occasional byline when somebody he’d banked an obit for finally kicked it. He passed away last year but probably still has some copy waiting to run. There’ll be a hundred Bowie obits and Bowie remembrances, half of them probably also written before the fact, years before the fact, carefully composed in the heads of ex–guitar techs and Mojo freelancers whose three-week stint embedded with the Glass Spider tour left them with notebooks full of unpublished anecdotes (and also hepatitis B). People who never even knew Bowie have thought about what they’ll write when Bowie dies. The performative nature of fan grief in the Twitterverse and the blogosphere — are we still calling it the blogosphere, do you know? Is it still spherical? — means that now more than ever, being a person who writes about culture kind of means keeping this mental “Drafts” folder of thoughts and feelings about famous people who seem like they’re either old or fucked up enough that they might die soon. I have my three stupid anecdotes about Lindsay Lohan, and I haven’t actually written them down, but it’ll take me an hour when I have to, y’know?

It’s not as if we’re going to in any way cause Bowie’s death to happen by preparing for it, any more than we cause earthquakes to happen by keeping canned food around. There are no gods so vengeful that they will take Bowie away from everyone else in the world just to make you and me feel guilty. I need to believe that because I haven’t actually bought any canned food.

Anyway: The idea (unspoken between us, I should probably add, and maybe you felt differently about it) was that we’d get a little extra time to work on this conversation and then it’d be maybe that much shinier of a paper boat in the fucking flotilla. But I’m struggling more than I anticipated with writing you a bunch of e-mails about what I think Bowie “meant,” because I need him to actually be dead to understand what he Meant to Me, which is the unspoken subtext of any of these kinds of things.

Apparently when John O’Hara received a phone call informing him of George Gershwin’s death, he shouted “I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to!” I know this because Dave Hickey tells this story at the beginning of his essay about Chet Baker, before saying that he wishes he could have been “so willful” at the time of Baker’s death, instead of reacting the way he did, which was to say “Aw, shit!” and hang up the phone:

“Because I believed it, and believing it, I sat there for a long time in that cool, shadowy room, looking out at the California morning … above and beyond the bungalow and the palm, the slate-gray Pacific rose to the pale line of the horizon, and this vision of ordinary paradise seemed an appropriate, funereal vista for the ruined prince of West Coast cool.”

I need to believe it to make that “Aw, shit” happen. I guess this is partly because I don’t want it to be true, but I’d be lying if I said it was entirely, or even primarily, caused by my not wanting it to be true — I just need the “Aw, shit” and I can’t fake it. I can’t even fake that “Goddammit all the best people keep dying and yet Michelle Malkin is gonna live to be 112” kind of anger, which is itself a mock, rhetorical anger. I can’t even fake mock anger privately inside my own mind.

“Aw, shit” is enough to go on, as an emotional reaction. Which is what Hickey’s essay tells us, what that incantatory “believed”/”believing” double snare tap says so well. Although it obviously helps that he goes on to write the best nine pages anybody ever wrote about Baker’s life and death and how Baker, whom Hickey met only once, “had been the secret sharer and unwitting accomplice in the best and most disgusting of my adventures.”

I guess maybe I feel like I lose the right to feel in any way that way about Bowie if we do this tag-team fan-fiction eulogy of him while he’s still alive. And I do have positive memories of Bowie along those lines. I have totally talked to girls about David Bowie in order to make them think that I was a certain kind of person. In a way, I guess that’s true of all the rock stars whose deaths are actually going to affect me on some emotional level; they’re all people who’ve been in some way a lingua franca for me in conversations with people I wanted to know or wanted to know me. When Joni Mitchell dies I will think about the women I talked to about Joni Mitchell so that they’d think I was the kind of complicated cat who likes a little Hissing of Summer Lawns with his Sunday-morning coffee. (I really resent that scene in The Kids Are All Right when Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo are at an incredibly awkward dinner together until they bond over their shared love of Blue, because now you can’t have a conversation with anybody about Blue without it sounding like canned indie-movie dialogue, which is too bad because Blue is the shit, and a really good conversation starter.) I guess me thinking about the people I talked to about David Bowie is really me thinking about the impermanence of all relationships, which in turn is really me thinking about the fact that everyone involved in those memories will someday die, me included.

Again, though, I’d be totally lying if I said I found this hard to do because it’s solipsistic. I’m literally just finding it hard to do because it’s hard to think of things to say about him while he’s still alive. I just need those last few pieces of information before I can start feeling emotions about David Bowie — where he was when he died and what day it was, stuff like that. (I guess I need to know what he died of, too, but again, it doesn’t really matter unless he gets killed in a drive-by shooting or struck by a falling satellite.) As it stands, this is like pulling teeth for me. Before I started writing you this e-mail I started writing you another e-mail, in which I literally found myself typing sentences like, “Slade, as one wag once observed,” and then there’d be a quote, from one wag who had observed something about Slade. You know you’re in trouble anytime you’re quoting “one wag.”

Are there still “wags”? Can you give me an example of someone who’s a present-day, working, self-identified “wag”? Did that profession die with Hitchens? Or was he too productive to be a true wag? I feel like “wags” only exist to be quoted. By the way, here’s a quote I found from David Bowie, in noted wags Phil Dellio and Scott Woods’s weirdly indispensable book Quotable Pop: “What the music says may be serious, but as a medium it should not be questioned, analyzed, or taken so seriously. I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium. The music is the mask the message wears — music is the Pierrot and I, the performer, am the message.” I guess that’s what “Cracked Actor” is about, to me — Bowie’s lost somewhere on tour in America, probably weirded out about how much fucked-up behavior he’s been able to write off as “Ziggy taking over,” just a guy in a lightning-boltier version of sad-clown makeup, begging the man in the coke-dusty mirror to recover the ability to feel before it’s too late.

So my question is this: There is a lyrically ambiguous but last-transmission-from-a-dying-space-capsule-ishly funereal song on the new Flaming Lips record called “Is David Bowie Dying?” Do you think Wayne Coyne knows something we don’t?


Part 2: July 2012

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Tuesday, July 3, 2012, at 10:30 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

OK … part of me is relieved you wrote all that. I must agree that our conversation was not going the way I had wanted it to go. However, another part of me is not so relieved, because this e-mail exchange — which I initially found complicated for all the usual reasons — is now complicated for reasons that are only tangentially connected to David Bowie.

When we were initially texted this tip, I thought that Bowie was imminently dying. I feel like we both got the impression that Bowie was going to be dead within 24 to 48 hours, and that starting early would simply give us a chance to think about him in a way that would be difficult to produce on deadline. So — in my mind — I sort of accepted the idea of Bowie being dead at the very moment I got your text, which is why I started our first e-mail with the sentence, “I’m finding the death of David Bowie unusually disturbing.” I halfway assumed that Bowie had already passed (and it was just a matter of hours before an official announcement would be made to the public). But then we started writing and sending these missives, and the hours evaporated and the days passed, and it increasingly started to seem like Bowie was going to live.

Now, if people are reading this, I suppose it means he did die [EDITOR’S NOTE: NOPE]. He’s not dead as I write this, but he’s dead to everyone who reads what I’m writing. Which, as you noted, is an incredibly common practice in the world of obit writing. We’re obviously not the first people who have written an obit in advance. But here’s our problem — the reason we’re doing this is so it WON’T be a normal obit. Instead of just a semi-informed overview of Bowie life, we’re trying to make something that is deeper and more personal. It’s supposed to be closer to the way people who love music actually feel about the dead musicians they adore. But this is impossible, because I can’t access those feelings on command (and neither can you).

I can’t just decide to be sad about Bowie’s death if I know he’s still alive. Every time I try, I end up thinking about him as a concept that can be used to examine other things. It’s almost like I’m trying to simulate my response to David Bowie’s death (and totally failing). For example: In my previous message, I asked you a question about the politics of glam rock. I wrote that on Saturday night. Today is Tuesday. It now feels like a totally idiotic thing for me to worry about, or to even inject into our conversation. I don’t even want to go back and re-read what I wrote, because I know it’s ridiculous. Do I actually believe the news of David Bowie’s demise will make me go, “Hmm … glam rock. What did it mean politically?” Or is that just some attempt at simulating who I think I am (or maybe who I sometimes pretend to be)?

It’s possible that David Bowie actively wants his death to prompt conversations like the one we’re pretending to have. Maybe it validates his import, because it proves that his art extends beyond itself (and way beyond its creator’s corporeal existence). I suppose we could actually ask David Bowie that question, because he’s still alive as I type this. Maybe we should just publish this e-mail exchange immediately, so Bowie could at least read and appreciate the things people will say about him two hours after he’s dead. I mean, that’s always the insane paradox of obituaries, right? I’m sure Whitney Houston would have been shocked to see the heartfelt reaction to her passing; prior to her death, when was the last time anyone had said anything about her that wasn’t partially a joke about smoking crack?

The fact that Bowie is the subject of our discussion makes this especially hard (perhaps we should have tried it with Andy Griffith first). Bowie was (is?) a mime, intensely interested in the frozen beauty of emotional distance, so accessing how we feel about him would probably be difficult even if we stood next to his bed and watched him die. One of the things I loved (love?) about him was how he managed to create a contradictory sense of intimacy within such massive sonic spaces. “Heroes” is the ultimate example: The way he and Tony Visconti gated the microphones during the recording process (i.e., the way they placed intermittently muted microphones at varying distances, including one that was as far as 50 feet away) makes the vocal track seem like it’s coming off the Arctic Ocean. It’s totally immersive and intellectually vast, and nothing about it is organic or unconsidered. But “Heroes” is still a profoundly emotional song, even if it’s not particularly human. It makes me feel close to Bowie, and close to other people. It does the emotive opposite of what logic would suggest, and that’s an amazing musical achievement. But is this really what I should be writing about within a meditation on someone’s death? Should I be inexplicably stressing how he was really fucking talented at setting up microphones? Is that really who David Bowie is to me? My favorite Bowie album is Station to Station. I suppose this is the place where I should explain why I love it. I would be journalistically justified to do so. But is that something that I should write about a dead man, or about a man who lives?

As for the Wayne Coyne song: That’s just proof that drugs make you smarter. I bet he likes Station to Station, too.

From: Alex Pappademas
To: Chuck Klosterman
Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at 10:03 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

It’s Tuesday again and David Bowie is still alive. So for the moment, he’ll remain sort of simultaneously present and absent in this conversation, I guess.

My favorite “Bowie is here but not here” moment is his cameo in David Lynch’s film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He plays “the long-lost Philip Jeffries,” who shows up to the FBI office in Philadelphia to say a bunch of cryptic things in a weird American accent and generally forecast bad shit to come, including Chris Isaak getting kidnapped from a trailer park run by Harry Dean Stanton. I like to imagine that this is how all meetings with David Bowie tend to go. And while this is basically just another example of “Just show up and be weird” casting on Lynch’s part, akin to his use of Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez in Lost Highway, it functions as an excellent piece of Zen Bowie criticism: He’s technically not in the building, but the cameras detect him anyway.

Moving on:

1. Over the holiday weekend, the flavor consultants at Flavorwire reposted a slideshow entitled “Pictures of David Bowie Doing Normal Stuff,” which was originally posted in January when Bowie turned 65. The pictures are of Bowie bowling, staring at a computer, talking on the phone, riding the subway, getting ready to prepare instant coffee, etc. — all the things I had trouble picturing him doing. The thing about them, though, is that even when he’s doing normal stuff he looks completely weird. There’s a picture of him opening what appears to be a small wrapped gift and he looks like he’s really excited to have hands.

2. And then I watched this video, of David Bowie riding around in a limo, listening to Aretha Franklin, and drinking from a carton of milk, which made me think that maybe Bowie is a living zone of uncertainty and that “weird” and “normal” aren’t useful metrics for talking about him. It’s a clip from the 1975 BBC documentary Cracked Actor, but the person who put it on YouTube just called it “David Bowie on drugs” — which, given the year, is as redundant a statement as “David Bowie not fighting Bigfoot.”

Also, he’s really good at deflecting questions:

INTERVIEWER: “Since you’ve been in America, you seem to have picked up on a lot of the themes and idioms of American music and culture. How has that happened?”
BOWIE: “There’s a fly, floatin’ around in my milk.”

3. You wrote “Do I actually believe the news of David Bowie’s demise will make me go, ‘Hmm. Glam rock. What did it mean politically?’ Or is that just some attempt to simulate who I think I am (or who I sometimes pretend to be)?”

I think — aside from “Is David Bowie dying or not?” — this is the crucial question here.

One thing that’s happened since the advent of real-time social media is that people seem to feel increasingly obligated to comment publicly when celebrities die. Granted, we’re both writers and therefore our respective feeds contain a higher-than-average number of other writers, who have a reflexive tendency to want to comment on things because they’re doing it all the time anyway, but I think normal people feel that way, too — and anyway, the existence of social media has partially blurred the line between “professional commentator” and “normal person.” To paraphrase something somebody wrote (on Twitter) when Michael Jackson died, the answer to “Where were you when [FAMOUS PERSON] died?” will always be “the Internet” from now on. It’s where we go to confirm that someone’s dead, and it’s the space where our observance of the dead person’s passing unfolds, because we’re already right there. And I know (1) that’s essentially just a function of the Internet being the space where everything unfolds, and (2) that it’s really just a case of a new technology supplanting older technologies that used to enable public mourning, like TV and radio. (The other day, in the car, I heard two 50 Cent songs in a row on KDAY, and I wondered for a second if 50 Cent had died. I guess this is something people growing up in an essentially post-radio world won’t understand — the death–or–Twofer Tuesday question.)

Maybe there’s really nothing new about any of this, in other words. Somebody dies and Twitter becomes a Strawberry Fields vigil for people who can’t get to Central Park because of geography.

But I wonder how much the tweet-mourning thing is about maintaining a consistent self-presentation in a world where consistency of self-presentation is more important to people than ever before — if we’re all choosing to express regret about certain people dying because it’s the kind of thing the characters we play on the Internet would do. And — this is the more troubling part — if the nature of the social-media experience, with its in-built pressure to come up with the first/best/most casually brilliant 140-character statement about something, becomes a thing that poisons and warps real feeling when it comes to people dying. And I’m not making an argument about that 140-character box in particular being inadequate; I’m talking about what I see as a social-media-bred instinct to immediately articulate an emotional reaction in front of other people who are reacting emotionally to the same thing, and wondering whether that’s mutated the way we emotionally react to things.

You mentioned Adam Yauch earlier. Like just about every sarcastic white man my age, I was a huge Beastie Boys fan growing up. They’re the closest thing I have to a Beatles aside from the actual Beatles, whom I never felt an ownership stake in. And even though I’d known for a while that he’d been sick, his death was still shocking and sudden. And in the days and weeks after that, as we got more expansive and detailed remembrances and pop culture sort of processed his death in the more traditional Rolling Stone cover-story kind of way, I came across things that really hit me. I have a 2-year-old daughter; that black-and-white picture of Yauch with his little girl climbing on him absolutely fucking gutted me, to the point that I don’t even want to Google image it and link to it here.

But on the day when I found out — OK. So I’d been offline for an hour or so, for some reason, not looking at my phone. I got a text message in which somebody mentioned it, assuming I already knew. I went immediately to Twitter and realized I’d missed an hour of Yauch mourning. I read a bunch of things people had written about him — funny things, heartfelt things. And from that moment on, instead of just feeling something about the guy dying, it was like I was trying to access some emotion that was equal to the emotions these people on the Internet seemed to be accessing. Like I somehow needed to dig deeper, to top the hour’s worth of Yauch-death responses I’d already read, because I think of myself (and want people to think of me) as the kind of big Beastie Boys fan who’d have a deep and heartfelt reaction to what had happened.

And I actually tried. I took the afternoon off. I put a bunch of Beastie Boys records on my iPod and started playing them, waiting for something to ring the bell. It actually didn’t take long; I started thinking about how, in the month or so between Kurt Cobain’s OD-or-maybe-suicide-attempt in Rome and his actual death, I’d been listening to In Utero a lot, borderline obsessively, but on the night that Cobain actually died, instead of listening to Nirvana, I’d put on Check Your Head, because suddenly I wanted to hear something funky and brash and life-affirming instead of thinking more about Kurt Cobain being so sad he couldn’t go on living — a decision that made my use of In Utero to sop up my own dumb high school melancholy seem that much more ridiculous.

And when I thought about that, standing in my kitchen in 2012, I cried a little (while listening to “The New Style,” which was contextually pretty weird). And then I had it. Achievement unlocked. I had an authentic feeling I could attach to a concise tweetable anecdote. Five people starred and/or retweeted it, including two prominent music writers whose work I respect. And I guess after that I was free to grieve privately or whatever, although truthfully I think I spent the rest of the afternoon wondering why more people weren’t giving my dumb Yauch memory the thumbs-up. Did they know something? Was the semi-inorganic process by which I’d come up with my Yauch tweet in some way visible?

Part of this, of course, was about the difficulty of figuring out how to feel about the death of someone I didn’t actually know who was nonetheless important to me, which was a problem that existed pre-Internet, and the larger fact that anything we can do on this planet feels inadequate in the face of loss, even if it’s weird secondhand famous-person loss. And I don’t know, maybe the fact that I can’t think about how I feel about something without thinking about how people are going to feel about how I feel about it when I express it out loud on the Internet makes me a sociopath, or an idiot.

(I found myself going through the exact same process yesterday, when Dennis Flemion from the Frogs was missing and presumed dead, as it turned out he was. I wasn’t a hardcore Frogs person — I generally agree with what our mutual friend Charles Aaron wrote today about having been “too into my own bullshit to ever really appreciate the Frogs,” because even though It’s Only Right and Natural is still one of the best pieces of vinyl I ever liberated from my college-radio station, I didn’t really put the effort into keeping up with them after that. So last night, I’m looking at YouTube, thinking about my Frogs reaction, wondering if “I Only Play 4 Money” is the right song to put up, or if it’s somehow impure because Eddie Vedder used to cover it live, and because the versions on YouTube with Eddie Vedder singing are actually kind of better — and I just shut the laptop for fear of gouging some kind of chair-leg furrow into the floor of my brain.)

Anyway, David Bowie: What you’re talking about when you talk about the sound of “Heroes” — which you described really well — is somebody using a “voice” we can sense is incredibly technologically mediated to express something that’s nonetheless completely real and honest. So maybe Bowie — out here in Los Angeles, living on milk and yayo, worrying (according to the best sentence on the Station to Station Wikipedia page) about having his semen stolen by witches — managed to conquer a form of the problem we’re talking about before the problem actually existed.

I’ll turn it back over to you, Chuck. Since you’ve been in America, you seem to have picked up on a lot of the themes and idioms of American music and culture. How has that happened?

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Thursday, July 12, 2012, at 9 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

I’m now pacing around my apartment, trying to figure out how to respond to all this (and sort of paralyzed by the fact that I know I can’t compete with the cogency of your thoughts or your ability to type them — I kinda feel like you’re Sugar Ray and I’m Roberto Duran).

I also feel like my ideas are scattered and contradictory, so I’m going to take the coward’s path: You have forced me to make a list.

1. We’re meandering pretty far afield here, topicwise. As such, I want to reiterate that this conversation is still (technically) about the passing of David Bowie, who is, of course, still (technically) alive. But since this will presumably be read by people only after the man’s death, I want to stress that he is still the reason this conversation is happening. I would feel terrible if people thought we were using David Bowie as an excuse to talk about everything except the person who’s actually dead.

2. OK, that’s not true. I wouldn’t feel terrible if people thought that. But I certainly wouldn’t feel good.

3. I keep thinking we should mention Mick Ronson within this morass, partially because he was so pivotal to Bowie’s sonic aesthetic but mostly because he actually is dead. He died in pre-Internet 1993, so almost no one noticed. There are a handful of guitar players more instantly distinctive than Mick Ronson, but that hand is infinitely small; if Bowie was the architect of glam, Ronson was the dude pouring the concrete. I still remember the day I learned that Ronson was the guitarist on John Cougar’s “Jack & Diane”: The moment you know that fact, you can never go back. “Jack & Diane” will sound like blue-collar Bowie forever. As far as I’m concerned, that Tastee Freez exists on the surface of Mars.

4. You wrote: “But I wonder how much the tweet-mourning thing is about maintaining a consistent self-presentation.” This is totally possible. Sometimes I think it’s even simpler than that. The thing that makes mourning on Facebook uncomfortable is how the sentiment always circles back as a mini-statement about how the mourner views their own identity (even when the expression of sadness is totally sincere). If an obscure jazz musician dies and someone expresses public sadness over his passing, everyone immediately assumes part of the motive for doing so is to galvanize the perception that the mourner cares about jazz. But that’s less negative than I’m making it sound. If we’re technologically forced to use pop culture as a means for showing other people who we want to be, the recognition of death is preferable to every other option.

A couple of months ago, Orlando Woolridge died at the age of 52. I tweeted about his death (I didn’t even say I was sad about it — I just noted that it happened). Now, why did I do this? Athletes die all the time, and nothing about my relationship with Woolridge was unusually intense. He wouldn’t be among my 100 favorite basketball players of all time. And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced my motivation was entirely personal. By restating the news that Woolridge was dead, I was unconsciously telling the world, “I am a nostalgic middle-aged person who likes to think about journeyman NBA players who were both problematic and underappreciated. I am not judgmental about how people should (or shouldn’t) party. I am sympathetic toward people who are marginalized as selfish. I tend to lionize guys from Notre Dame, which is shorthand for buried Catholicism. I have an affinity for the pre-Jordan era of the NBA, when basketball was less watchable but more weird. Most of all, I want to be the kind of guy who cares when people like Orlando Woolridge disappear, because I illogically fear that not enough other people do.”

Now, does this self-focused awareness somehow make my recognition of Woolridge’s death selfish? I suppose it does. But two facts remain untarnished. The first is that — regardless of the motivation — every R.I.P. tweet still causes a handful of people to briefly consider the life of the deceased (so they still function as traditional obituaries). The second is that — because there’s always this combined, coded message inherent to everything in the social media universe — it says something about who Orlando Woolridge was and what he represented. You can triangulate a larger meaning, based on what you know about the mourner. In your previous e-mail, you mentioned the death of the drummer from the Frogs. I don’t know if I ever listened to that band twice. I had no relationship to their music. But I feel like I have an oddly accurate understanding of what their aesthetic was, solely based on the type of person who expressed sadness when their drummer died. I know what elements of music those particular sources appreciate and I understand how they see their own public personas, so I understand something I’d previously overlooked. It doesn’t really matter why they were expressing sadness, or if their sadness was genuine or performative. Which brings me to point five …

5. What will it mean to express public dismay over Bowie’s death? He is obviously not the Orlando Woolridge of rock. He’s a towering figure, collectively shared by the culture at large. It could mean a lot of disparate things. So when I eventually see someone on Twitter telling the world that they want David Bowie to rest peacefully, these are the other messages I will potentially infer:

  1. “I love classic rock, so I always make sure to note the death of any classic rock musician. I’m that guy.”
  2. “I am old enough to remember when Bowie seemed new, or I am a young person who self-identifies as someone who cares about a cultural past they were not able to experience.”
  3. “This dead artist was who I loved at the age of 14.” (The accompanying YouTube clip will be the video for “Blue Jean” if the person was born in the 1970s or “Ashes to Ashes” if the person was born in the 1960s.)
  4. “Sexual politics are specifically meaningful to me.”
  5. “Good taste is important. I prefer rock music that feels like art.”
  6. “I got into Bowie because Trent Reznor worshipped him.” (The accompanying YouTube clip will be “I’m Afraid of Americans.”)
  7. “I place significance on the value of rock stars as a cultural trope, and I miss the era when the existence of that kind of person was just a given.”
  8. “I don’t know much about music, but I do know who this particular person was (and I like to be involved in whatever conversation is happening online).”

Of those unspoken sentiments, the one that interests me most is “D.” Which brings me to point no. 6 …

6. Before the Internet, people like us read The Book of Lists. It was a non-participatory Internet on paper; it was like the World Almanac for weirdos. There have been multiple volumes of this book, but the only three that matter are the original version (which came out in 1977) and the first two follow-ups (from 1980 and 1983). Essentially, these were just 600 pages of categorical lists. One of the categories in these books was always “famous gay people.” But the only two pop stars that I recall being mentioned were Bowie and Elton John. The book also made sure to specifically note that these guys were bisexual.

Today, everyone knows that classifying either of those artists as bisexual is pretty inaccurate. Referring to Elton John as “bisexual” is like referring to Steven Soderbergh as a Yes documentarian. The situation with Bowie is trickier, but only slightly so … I suppose his life experience would demand that he be classified as bisexual, but he’s been married to two different women and had a kid with each of them. Since at least the late ’80s, he’s seemed way straighter than Mick Jagger. A cynical person might argue that his espoused pansexual proclivities throughout the 1970s were straight-up marketing, brilliantly concocted by his first wife, Angie (who ultimately published a not-very-compelling e-book titled Bisexuality). But there’s still something incredibly important about this, even if it was (mostly or partially) fake: Bowie effortlessly combined the idea of being gay with the idea of being fascinating. It wasn’t like he was taking something that was perceived as negative and trying to make it positive, and it wasn’t like he was trying to expose something deep about himself that he’d always repressed (I mean, maybe he was, but it didn’t seem like it). He wasn’t adversarial about his sexual unorthodoxy, the way Lou Reed often seemed. It was just a casual, logical extension of his art. It was more like, “Am I attracted to men? Oh, sure. Why not? So is Andy Warhol. What a strange question. Go read The Book of Lists.”

One of the things that made Bowie so cool was how he seemed to prefer anything fabricated over anything real. He was so amused by fictional depictions of life (I always got the impression he liked synthesizers because they literally dictated synthetic creativity). I think he found normal life annoying. For example, take Velvet Goldmine: Here’s a 1998 Todd Haynes movie that’s a roman à clef about Bowie’s life in the ’70s (titled after a Bowie B side), except that Haynes added a subplot where the Bowie caricature (portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has a homosexual relationship with the Iggy Pop caricature (Ewan McGregor). This affair never happened. It’s totally fake. When Bowie refused to participate in the making of Velvet Goldmine (there are no Bowie songs in the film, which is a real problem), my initial assumption was that this fabricated romantic relationship was the reason — I assumed Bowie read the script and thought, It’s pretty strange that this director wants to make up a segment of my sexual past and suggest it was the reason I produced The Idiot. I remember thinking that Haynes was putting Bowie is a very difficult position, because criticizing this specific plot point could easily be misinterpreted. But as it turns out, I was wrong about all of this. The reason Bowie didn’t participate with this film is because he aspired to eventually make his own fictionalized movie about his life. According to the biography Bowie, the scenes where he fucked Iggy Pop were pretty much the only parts of Velvet Goldmine he liked! “I thought the rest of it was garbage,” he claimed. Such a Bowie-centric reaction. I can’t think of many other people who could have expressed that kind of contradictory response without seeming like they were totally lying. I suppose it helps that Bowie always seemed to be partially lying.

7. Here’s my one issue with that aforementioned “David Bowie on drugs” clip: He doesn’t seem very high to me.

8. “I guess maybe I feel like I lose the right to feel [mock anger] about Bowie if we do this tag-team fan-fiction eulogy of him while he’s still alive”: I know exactly what you’re saying. I’m starting to worry about what direction this dialogue is supposed to take once Bowie actually dies. It no longer feels like an obituary. I was almost able to put myself in the “Bowie Is Already Dead” mind-set when we started, but not anymore. Too many days have passed. It doesn’t seem like I’m writing about a dead man. I can’t reject the reality that he is alive. I imagine him sitting in his kitchen, reading the “Business” section of the New York Times and listening to a singer from Iceland I’ve never heard of. He’s wearing a white robe. He’s eating a piece of toast.
From: Alex Pappademas
To: Chuck Klosterman
Date: Thursday, July 26, 2012, at 9 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

The picture you paint of Bowie reminds me a lot of the day-to-day life that Charlie Kaufman imagines for John Malkovich, who I believe is wearing a robe and eating toast (and possibly ordering hand towels over the phone) the first time John Cusack crawls inside his brain. This dialogue is becoming a little bit like Being John Malkovich and a little bit like that failed sitcom where Donal Logue was plotting to rob Mick Jagger’s apartment. Nobody talks about how weird that premise was. Apparently it was supposed to be called Let’s Rob Jeff Goldblum and then Jeff Goldblum signed on to a different pilot. What would we be stealing if we were robbing David Bowie? A Cosmic Cube?

Hey, you know what movie was a colossal letdown? Velvet Goldmine. I’d liked Todd Haynes before, and I would again — I love I’m Not There, which seemed like a way more successful attempt to use fantasy to illuminate the significance of an even-slipperier rock icon. But Velvet Goldmine — there’s UFOs in that, right? Metaphorical UFOs? And Grant Lee Buffalo music, because no band signifies “pansexual hedonist revolution” quite like Grant Lee Buffalo? And Christian Bale plays a depressed rock critic? I wonder if we’ll ever see Bowie’s Bowie movie — the more-faithful-to-the-original-text Bowie Begins. Bowie once told Kurt Loder that over the years he’d been sent hundreds of “colossally awful” treatments for feature-film versions of the Ziggy Stardust story, and it seems like the sci-fi mythmaking was part of what he objected to about all of them: “I’ve got more Martians-who-play-guitar scripts in my house than you’d believe … I mean, you wouldn’t think that many people wrote about Martians who play guitars, would you?”

I read this quote last night, in Loder’s 1983 Rolling Stone cover story on Bowie. It’s a pretty fascinating portrait of Bowie at a point in his career that few people think of as particularly fascinating. He’s 36. He’s just signed to a new label, EMI, and he’s promoting Let’s Dance, a deliberately commercial album of non-synthy, non-arty pop-funk that he doesn’t play any of the instruments on, although Stevie Ray Vaughan does. Loder meets him in Australia, where he’s shooting the videos for “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl.” The story opens with him drinking beer in Sydney and declaring “It’s not hip to be cool … I’ve seen so much cool, it’s just left me cold” and running a hand through his blond hair and laughing a warm and friendly laugh, because (per Loder) he is “a man without masks” now, a man who has outgrown his “old poses.” And if the cover didn’t give it away, there’s one pose in particular he’d clearly like to walk back:

“‘The biggest mistake I ever made,’ he said one night after a couple of cans of Foster’s Lager, ‘was telling that Melody Maker writer that I was bisexual. Christ, I was so young then. I was experimenting …'”

Foster’s! Australian for beer! Beer-drinking, 1983-magazine-profile-ese for “no longer interested in sex with dudes”! He goes on to explain that he’s “a bit sailorlike” in terms of relationships and has girlfriends in many different cities, but isn’t looking for anything less casual because he finds it hard “to be perpetually enthusiastic about somebody else’s life all the time.” I tend to think of Bowie as a print-the-legend kind of guy when it comes to most things, so it’s interesting to see him minimizing the more touching-other-dudes’-junk-ish aspects of the alien gender terrorist years in an attempt to present himself to the public as a professional entertainer and relatively regular guy.

In this same story, though, he tells Loder he doesn’t remember one single minute of 1975. That was the year he turned up on the Grammys looking like a carrot-topped Daywalker to present the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance trophy; he tells Loder that when he heard about this appearance later, he basically thought Oh, yeah, I do remember putting on a tuxedo at some point in 1975, that explains a lot. There is footage from that night; Bowie looks like he’s scared the giant floating head of Aretha Franklin is going to eat him, although in fairness it probably looks like a giant (glass) spider. Later in the story, Bowie reveals that both the “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance” videos are attempts on Bowie’s part to use MTV to convey the message that racism is bad and (in the case of “Let’s Dance” specifically) call attention to the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal population. This explains the part in “Let’s Dance” where the young dark-skinned man is pulling a piece of heavy factory equipment through traffic in Sydney, I guess, but not “China Girl,” in which Bowie uses his fingers to give himself slanty eyes and throws rice at the camera. “They’re almost like Russian social realism,” Bowie tells Loder about these videos.

It’s a great story; even when Bowie is normaling he’s still super weird.

Also, at one point, he talks about his decision to play Abraham Lincoln in a Robert Wilson opera about the Civil War, and when Loder asks him what this role will specifically entail, Bowie says “Oh, fallin’ out of a balcony, I suspect.” He will be missed. At some point.

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Sunday, July 29, 2012, at 1 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

Kurt Loder sort of looks like Bowie, no? Similar cheekbones? Similar teeth? I bet that whole interview is awesome. I recall you once telling me that — if the world was about to end — you’d want Kurt Loder to give you the news. Remember how we always used to talk about how underrated Loder was as a writer, simply because young people only associate him with television? It’s now been 12 years since he’s been on MTV, so I suppose young people no longer associate him with anything. Does that increase or decrease the degree to which he’s undervalued? Logically, disappearing from the mainstream culture should make you more beloved by the underground — but I think the opposite usually happens. I guess you need to seem overrated at one skill in order to make other people realize you’re underrated at something else. Regardless, Loder remains a dark genius. He seems like a funny guy who never actually laughs. I was listening to him on some random podcast, and he was just hammering the Dave Matthews Band for no reason whatsoever. One of the hosts tried to argue that listening to the DMB was kind of like listening to free jazz, based on the premise that a lot of their songs use unorthodox time signatures. “The alternative explanation,” said Loder, “is that the band doesn’t know how to keep time.”

So, anyway … I’m listening to Let’s Dance right now, based on your previous e-mail. I have not listened to this album in a very long time. I didn’t remember it being so top-heavy, and there’s way more saxophone than I recall. This was the biggest record of his career (six times platinum), which I suspect was due to some combination of MTV and Niles Rogers and the state of the music industry and the space Bowie was operating from as a 36-year-old (which, at least in my memory, already made him seem like some kind of iconic elder statesman). I must be honest — the songs on Let’s Dance are not particularly classic. Whenever I hear the beginning of “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” I always think it’s going to be cool, but that never happens. The song title is better than the song. Still, there are interesting moments on this record, which is why Bowie could make bad records and still be accidentally cool — he never went full-on normal, even when he was trying to move units. The words are always obtuse enough to seem deep. Like, what do you make of the beginning of “Modern Love”: “I know when to go out. I know when to stay in … and get things done.” Taken by itself, it’s a pretty innocuous sentiment. But as the first words on the first song of a massively commercial album, they seem meaningful, even if I can’t properly deduce what that meaning is. I suppose this is precisely how you’re supposed to feel when you’re 36 years old: “OK, I get this now. I know how to live.I know when to go out and when to stay in.” People don’t love a lot of Bowie’s material from the period after Let’s Dance, but maybe the key is looking at Bowie’s lyrics as aphoristic advice on mature living. I know there’s some Hold Steady song where Craig Finn thanks Joe Strummer for teaching him how to be a person, but I would trust Bowie’s advisement way, way more. He was practical.

Speaking of practicality (or perhaps its complete opposite), do you recall coming over to my apartment one night after the bar (this was still when I was in the Peter Cooper Village) and I wanted to play this record? Nobody was into it. But who’s laughing now? Just think of all the things we’d have to write about if we’d invested a mere 45 minutes into listening to David Bowie narrate Peter and the Wolf. That was a blown opportunity for insanity. And on the subject of insanity — I’ve always been pretty curious about Bowie’s 1980 tenure in the Broadway production of The Elephant Man, which he performed entirely without makeup. He’s claimed this was the most challenging performance of his career. Judging from this clip, he took some real risks (you could even argue he unknowingly risked his life, since Mark David Chapman was planning on attending the play the day after he killed John Lennon). Bowie was/is a decent actor in general (he was an oddly realistic Pontius Pilate and an unusually tall Andy Warhol). I can’t think of many musicians who were consistently better (maybe Dwight Yoakam?). That said, I’ve somehow never seen Labyrinth. My interest was clouded by the lack of a minotaur.

Also, just to ground us back to whatever reality we’re pretending to inhabit: I’m writing this e-mail on July 29, which means we’ve now been exchanging these obituary e-mails for over four weeks. Bowie is clearly not dying (or at least not any faster than everyone else we know). I suspect the source who fed us this rumor is the same person who wrote the very first article about the impending Y2K disaster. Or are we simply overlooking the obvious? Maybe Bowie literally is from outer space. What if he actually arrived here in some The Man Who Fell to Earth scenario, only to realize that we (as simple humans) were not psychologically prepared for the shocking realization of life on other planets, so he tried to deliver the news slowly, via pop music that was occasionally recorded in Germany? Maybe he will survive for 1,000 years. Are there any songs where Bowie mentions how long aliens are supposed to live? Are aliens like those turtles from the Galápagos Islands?

Part 3: August 2012

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Monday, August 13, 2012, at 10:38 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

So the Olympics concluded last night to David Bowie’s “Fame,” but he was not on hand for the closing ceremony. I think maybe he’s dying again.

From: Alex Pappademas
To: Chuck Klosterman
Date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012, at 3:29 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

Yeah — that’s not a great sign, is it? (Unless you’re a creepy premature eulogist, I mean.)

The Guardian said this about his absence: “Although he closely monitors his own press coverage, Bowie, now based in New York, repeatedly turns down requests to perform or appear in public.” Why do you think they felt compelled to mention that Bowie “closely monitors his own press coverage”? When I read that, I pictured him scanning 20 TVs at once for his own image, like Thomas Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth, or Ozymandias from Watchmen.

Something I need to say, in case Bowie is monitoring this dialogue: I regret being so dismissive of “China Girl” a few letters ago. I stand by what I said about Let’s Dance, a record so self-consciously unweird you get the feeling Bowie called it Let’s Dance because EMI wouldn’t release a record called Fuck Art.

Fuck Art is not a good look for Bowie. He’s at his best when he’s doing something contrived. There’s a rumor that Brian Eno came up with the idea of Oblique Strategies — a deck of cards with abstract aphorisms for blocked creative types, like “Go slowly all the way round the outside” and “Honor thy error as a true intention” — as a way of keeping Bowie engaged during the coke-zonked Berlin sessions that produced albums like Low and Lodger. I don’t know how true that is. But I can see Eno recognizing that Bowie needed a contrivance to function, whether it was singing in character as a gay black Englishman infatuated with American soul music — the Young Americans concept — or trying to “Mechanize something idiosyncratic” or “Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events.”

To cite Saturday Night Live again, because apparently it’s more of a cultural Rosetta stone for me than I’m generally willing to admit: You know that Saturday Night Live opener where Tom Hanks starts singing about how he’s not going to phone it in tonight, and the whole cast and crew join him and sing about how tonight will be no ordinary show, and then at one point Phil Hartman, caught up in the moment, sings a little solo about how he’s not going to hide behind wigs and masks tonight, and the revelry pauses so everybody can say to him, “Um, yeah, Phil — I don’t think that’s a great idea”? That’s how I feel about Bowie when he tries to dispense with artifice. That’s how I feel about Let’s Dance. (And yeah, sure, you could argue that No Masks Bowie is itself a mask — but that’s a slippery slope that’ll lead us straight to a critical reassessment of the aggressively competent rock music on the first Tin Machine album, and that is a place I will not go.)

What I’m saying is, I like “China Girl” more than I’m letting on, more than any thinking person should like a song called “China Girl.” (If this “China Girl” had never existed and John Mayer came out with a song called “China Girl” tomorrow, America would figure out a way to put him in prison by the end of the week.)

The first person to record “China Girl” was Iggy Pop, on his Bowie-produced 1977 solo debut The Idiot. In the liner notes to the Sound + Vision boxed set, Bowie told Kurt Loder — who I guess was more of a Dr. Johnson figure for Bowie in the ’80s than I realized — that he was basically using Iggy as a human Oblique Strategies card: “Poor Jim, in a way, became a guinea pig for what I wanted to do with sound. I didn’t have the material at the time, and I didn’t feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else’s work, so that album was opportune, creatively.”

Iggy Pop and Bowie wrote “China Girl” together one night in the Châum;teau d’Herouville, a French castle people said was inhabited by the ghosts of Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. (Tony Visconti: “It felt like it was haunted as all fuck, but what could Frédéric and George really do to me, scare me in French?”) It’s supposedly about Kuelan Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman Iggy was having an affair with, but the sludgy, distorted version on The Idiot just sounds like it’s about drugs. I didn’t hear this version until years later. (True confession time: I gave Iggy’s body of work the go-by for years because the first Iggy record I heard was the sucky Brick by Brick.) The “China Girl” that was my “China Girl” was the one on Let’s Dance, because it’s on Changesbowie — and yes, I know, greatest-hits albums are for cowards, and identifying Changesbowie as the holy crash site where the Bowie capsule made landfall in my life is a bigger cop-out than the ending of The Illusionist, but it’s the truth.

Minus the grime that made Iggy’s version alluring, “China Girl” becomes deeply problematic — on first pass the lyrics seem so obviously boneheadedly racist you almost don’t notice how sexist they are. (Plus, the first notes you hear are a variation on the so-called “Asian riff,” the foundation of clueless quasi-orientalist pop masterpieces from Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” to Rush’s “A Passage to Bangkok,” as well as the Hong Kong Phooey theme song — always a sure sign that we’re in problematic territory, stereotype-wise.)

And yet it’s an incredible vocal performance, one that elevates and transforms the material and takes it to places it shouldn’t be able to go. It’s Bowie in soul-crooner mode, revisiting that swoony “Young Americans” delivery, singing like he’s laying the back of his hand on his forehead after every line. (I love that sweet little Al Green high note he hits on the word “morning” when he sings “Wake up in the morning / Where’s my little China girl?”) On paper, it’s a bunch of patronizing bullshit; as sung by Bowie, it starts out as patronizing bullshit, becomes an eroticized meditation on loss of control, and eventually takes on an undercurrent of menace and madness.

I mean, that bridge — is there anyone else who could put that bridge over? “I stumble into town / Just like a sacred cow / Visions of swastikas in my head / Plans for everyone!” He doesn’t want us to miss the word “swastika,” either — he really enunciates it. It’s as if Bowie is saying that just by virtue of who he is as a Caucasian he’s incapable of not being racist in this situation, that there’s an inherently colonialist aspect to his attraction to this woman he’s singing about. It’s in the whites of his eyes. It’s rooted in a legacy of paternalistic exploitation that goes back to — well, Marlon Brando, maybe? (Bowie is not awesome at history.)

And then he sings “My little China girl / You shouldn’t mess with me / I’ll ruin everything you are,” dipping down into a fragile quaver on the first line, exhaling “everything you are” as a shudder of revulsion, like he’s shivering as his little China girl runs her finger down his bare chest. Later, just before the guitar solo (played by Stevie Ray Vaughan!), he’ll sing in the girl’s voice — “Baby, just you shut your mouth” — and make it clear that she’s running the show, but it’s that protesting-too-much “everything you are” that gives the game away. It’s Bowie who’s worried about being ruined here, clearly, Bowie who’ll be the one ravaged if he submits, Bowie who’s utterly terrified of the way his body responds to this woman.

(Reviewing Aladdin Sane when it came out in ’73, Robert Christgau suggested that the overall sexual backspin of that record was not bisexuality but asexuality, “the affliction of a romantic for whom love turns nasty, awkward and exploitative when touched by lust,” and I think that’s a good encapsulation of what’s happening on “China Girl,” over and above the condescension. I think one of the reasons it’s hard to conceive of Bowie being fully straight or fully gay is that it’s hard to conceive of him being horny at all, for anyone. Also, let’s start a band called Sexual Backspin, immediately.)

Anyway: Bowie turns it into a song about how men rendered helpless by desire feel they have no choice but to subjugate women; he’s admitting he’s a weirdo and a monster, or at least that he has that potential in him, and he’s not standing back judging that impulse, he’s just voicing it. I wasn’t able to dig it up on YouTube, but there’s a rumor that the White Stripes have covered this song live, which isn’t surprising, since that big-strong-man-brought-low-by-lust dynamic is one of Jack White’s favorite things to play around with. And presumably if you asked Jack about it he’d claim to be covering Iggy, not Bowie, but in a way Bowie’s almost parodically antiseptic version (which he recorded, by the way, to throw some royalties Iggy’s way when Pop fell on a rough patch in the ’80s) gets the point across better, I think. As Chris O’Leary puts it on Pushing Ahead of the Dame — an amazing Bowie-song-backstory blog that I’ve become a little bit obsessed with during the course of this project — “Pop was too much in his own shadow; Bowie saw the rot, the sense of love as corruption, as being just a lesser form of cultural toxin, far more clearly — he shone it up, he sold it well.”

One thing I’ve come to grips with a little bit in attempting to come to grips with Bowie’s legacy over the last few weeks is that Bowie wrote some horrible lyrics over the years — some amazing horrible lyrics (“I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes / Living proof of churches’ lies / I’m destiny”) and some just-plain-horrible horrible lyrics. And he wasn’t technically a great singer, either. But he was an amazing interpreter of songs, including his own — he knew how to dramatize a lyric and give it life. As a poem, “Eight Line Poem” is closer to Jewel than Coleridge — “Tactful cactus by your window / surveys the prairie of your room,” yikes — but Bowie’s absurd Ricky Nelson–meets–Jagger Howdy y’all I’m Cowboy Bowie yodel renders it weird and utterly charming; it’s like something Stephen Malkmus could have sung on Pavement’s Wowee Zowee.

I signed up for Spotify when we started doing this so that I could revisit albums like Let’s Dance without paying Apple $10.99 for the privilege. I’d been holding out before that, for months, and I became addicted to it almost immediately, in life-derailing ways. Remember on The Sopranos when Julianna Margulies sent Christopher out for valerian tea, reasoning that it was less of a threat to her recovery than Robitussin, and the next time you saw them in that same episode they were both smoking heroin again? That’s me with Spotify. Anyway: The other night, I made a Spotify Radio station using Bowie’s Low album as a prompt, and it kicked up “Eight Line Poem,” Iggy Pop’s Bowie-produced “Dum Dum Boys,” and Lou Reed’s “Vicious” (from Transformer, which Bowie coproduced with Mick Ronson) before I finished loading the dishwasher. I ask you: Is there any other solo performer who’s done so much great work as a producer/benefactor/blind-leading-the-blind guru to other bands?

(And yes, sometimes — especially on Transformer — it seemed like he was trying to re-create these artists in his own image, but it was always interesting to watch them kind of reject the DNA graft. The kid in Almost Famous says of mid-’70s Lou Reed, “In his new stuff, he’s trying to be Bowie — he should just be himself,” an assertion we’re supposed to believe impresses Lester Bangs. Psssh.)

Bowie was a great artist, but he was also a great fan — of Iggy and Lou, but also of Anthony Newley, the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Dylan, Kraftwerk, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. (He even had room in his heart for Goldie.) I love the moment at the beginning of “Andy Warhol” where he corrects the engineer’s pronunciation of Warhol’s name — “War-HULL, actually.” So nerdy, so great — he’s like a Star Trek geek who can’t let someone’s reference to the “Vulcan death grip” go uncorrected. Obviously you expect musicians to be “into music,” but there are only a few artists who seem like true superfans — Morrissey (who wrote books about James Dean and the New York Dolls before the Smiths took off) is one, and so is Kurt Cobain (a maker of long, annotated top-albums lists). And so is Bowie. He’s obviously a massively influential artist, but he was also a massively and unashamedly influenced artist, in a way that feels predictive of the collage-driven art form pop music would become in the 21st century. Long before the advent of sampling (and the general re-availableness of virtually every record ever recorded) turned everyone into a curator-creator, Bowie was a nimble borrower and lender; he was never afraid to jump on a bandwagon, and a lot of the time those bandwagons took him and his art to really interesting places.

And he never stopped paying attention and tribute. In 2003, after he heard the first TV on the Radio EP, Young Liars, he actually called TVOTR’s producer Dave Sitek to talk about the record. “I completely didn’t think it was him,” Sitek told the New York Times. “He probably said some really important things that I was just too startled to pay attention to.” The lineup for the High Line Festival he curated in New York in 2007 — the year he turned 60! — included Air, the Arcade Fire, Deerhoof, the Polyphonic Spree, Daniel Johnston, Secret Machines, Laurie Anderson, and word-jazz poet Ken Nordine. And as I write this, I’m listening to 2002’s ridiculously underrated Heathen, his second-to-last studio album, on which he covers the Pixies (“Cactus”) and Neil Young (“I’ve Been Waiting for You”) and references The Uncle Floyd Show, which he claims to have learned about from John Lennon.

Maybe this is why I’ve been struggling with this dialogue a little bit. Fandom was a part of Bowie’s art; he was a practitioner of fandom within the context of rock music. And the obituary, the tribute essay, the critical remembrance — we’re working in Bowie’s territory when we do these things, because these things are fan rituals. We make these little bonfires of our memories and ideas and send the smoke up for other people to see. It’s how we testify to the depth of our completely one-sided relationships with people we’ve never met. And I guess maybe I’m worried my bonfire won’t be bright enough.

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Monday, August 20, 2012, at 3:14 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

OK, three things to get out of the way immediately:

1. I saw a story this weekend about Bowie’s alleged plans to cocurate a museum installation that will examine the trajectory of his career through his various stage costumes. The fact that he is cocurating this exhibit leads me to believe that at least he believes he’ll still be around in the immediate future, although (as with that story you noted about the Olympics) he’s not quoted anywhere in the piece. However, at the very end of the article, we do get this (the attributed quote is from Martin Roth, the museum’s director … I guess you and I constitute “[people]”?):

There have been reports of (Bowie’s) ill-health. Roth said: “[People] try to build a story around him. There’s a lot of gossip.” Bowie’s spokesman declined to comment.

2. I agree that Bowie has, at times, written some terrible lyrics. But I don’t think the example you cite qualifies. In fact, I think parts of the Hunky Dory song you’re referencing, “Quicksand,” include some of the best lyrical passages of his career. Regardless of how seriously we’re supposed to take this song (and I assume Bowie would say “that depends”), I find his thoughts to be metaphysically pragmatic, almost to the point of discomfort. I’m pretty sure “Quicksand” was about Hitler’s final thoughts before his suicide — in the specific lines you quote, I think you’re mishearing the phrase “Churchill’s lies” (I’ve also heard that the reference to “Garbo” is supposedly about the WWII double agent Juan Pujol Garcia, whose military code name was “Garbo”). Even if I’m wrong, I will always read this song as being delivered from the perspective of a dying Adolf Hitler, which would place it in a rarified tier of pop music. Is there a Spotify playlist of tracks that mine Hitler’s deranged inner monologue? I suppose there will be tomorrow.

3. That said, Dinosaur Jr. covered “Quicksand” in 1991 and J Mascis rewrote the specific lines you found most idiotic, so maybe you’re right. In Bowie’s defense, he often worked in a lyrical realm that lent itself to potential absurdity. It’s one thing to write surrealist sci-fi power ballads, but it’s quite another to do so in a manner that’s self-consciously intellectual and literary. It’s a high-risk, low-reward preoccupation: It’s easy to come across as pretentious and juvenile if you fail, and most consumers won’t even notice the moments where you succeed. Bowie is like Philip K. Dick in this sense. I mean, when you do a cold reading of “Space Oddity” (without thinking of the melody), it’s amazing how it doesn’t seem silly at all.

So, in other news … I think we’re both getting nervous here, Alex. I feel like we’ve evolved from pretending Bowie was dead (and creating this exchange as a final tribute to his life) into pretending Bowie will somehow never die (and just sort of casually writing about all the things we’ve always liked about him). But what’s going to happen when he DOES die? Are we just going to slap a few final e-mails onto the tail of this preexisting document? Will his actual passing prompt us to really start writing about who he was and why he mattered? Will we suddenly want to go back and re-edit everything we’ve already written?

I mean, by composing this while he’s still alive, we’re probably making jokes and references that will seem problematic and uncouth when applied to a corpse. But I also feel like we can’t stop. Not right now, at least. No idea why I feel that way.

Here’s a question: If Bowie had never been born, how would the contemporary world (or at least the world of pop music) be different? I have a few theories.

Text Conversation:
October 21, 2012 (10:35 p.m. EST)
ALEX: Watching this Bengals/Steelers game in a nest of spiders. [Accompanying self-portrait depicts Alex in a bar with fake Halloween cobwebs all over the ceiling.]ALEX: The only tv in this bar not tuned to the game is showing TMZ & they just had footage of David Bowie, alive, crossing Lafayette Street in New York.

CHUCK: Based on the premise that “he is alive”?

ALEX: We’re the Cincinnati Bengals of predicting when people will die.

CHUCK: Did he look spry?

ALEX: He seems to be hailing a cab and carrying a heavy-looking laptop.

CHUCK: Maybe it wasn’t a laptop. Maybe it was a dialysis machine.

ALEX: The laptop might contain his last will and testament. You never know.

CHUCK: Bowie must be aware of these media rumors. He should really turn the tables on us … by murdering someone.

ALEX: That laptop is a 22″ ToughBook containing the dates and times of all our deaths.

Part 4: February 2013

To: Chuck Klosterman
From: Alex Pappademas
Date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 1:31 p.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

Hey, Chuck.

It’s an unstereotypically cold and windy day in Los Angeles. I spent the morning drinking coffee and listening to this helicopter that kept flying window-rattlingly low over the Silver Lake/Echo Park area, which usually means there’s a foot chase in progress. My neighborhood is a big foot-chase terminus zone. It’s Tuesday; looking back over this dialogue, I always seem to end up e-mailing you about David Bowie on Tuesdays. Tuesdays With Bowie.

We haven’t had an on-the-record conversation about Bowie’s life-death since late last year. There’s so much stuff we’ve missed — I kept meaning to write to you about the Harmontown show where everybody was instructed to come dressed as Jareth the Goblin King from Labyrinth, and about the “We Are the Dead”–inspired third arc of Matt Fraction’s comic-book series Casanova, which hinged on the past and future selves of a protean Bowie-like figure named Luther Desmond Diamond, and this Vine, in which James Urbaniak — the actor who voices both Dr. Venture and a supervillain named David Bowie on The Venture Brothers — speculates on what Bowie does with his Sunday nights.

And during our hiatus from talking about Bowie I kept thinking of things I hadn’t said yet about Bowie, thoughts I had about him that I wanted to read into the record. I wanted to talk about a line in “Be My Wife” — “I’ve lived all over the world / I’ve left every place” — and how it seems to sum up Bowie’s whole deal as a human. How great is “Be My Wife,” by the way? Chris O’Leary notes that it’s a marriage-proposal song Bowie wrote as his marriage to Angela Bowie was disintegrating. I went back to it sometime in November, as research for a long e-mail about Low that I never ended up writing you. I love the end, when Bowie sings the last “Sometimes you get so lonely” and then that oddly Neil Young–ian guitar solo comes in, clipped and unsentimental, like a bartender mopping up and rolling his eyes at Bowie’s maudlinness. Low might be my favorite Bowie album, even though I like only half of it.

But we’ve got an actual piece of Bowie-related news to discuss. On January 8 — his 66th birthday — the first new Bowie song in a decade popped up on Bowie’s official website. It’s called “Where Are We Now,” and it’s the first single from a new Bowie album called The Next Day that will presumably be “in stores” by the time people read this. “Where Are We Now” is a foot-dragging ballad with a quavering, almost unspeakably emotional vocal; it seems to be about Bowie as a man in his 60s, strolling the Berlin streets he haunted as a coke-ghoul in the ’70s, “walking the dead,” thinking about time’s passage and — weirdly, considering the themes of the conversation we’ve been having — the strange fact of his own continued existence. It’s Bowie as a specter haunting Europe. Young Bowie as a specter haunting Old Bowie. And yet by the end he’s singing not about his own death but about permanence, about forever: “As long as there’s sun / As long as there’s rain … As long as there’s fire / As long as there’s me / As long as there’s you.” (I spent a long time trying to figure out what this touching, hopeful turn reminded me of, and then I remembered: the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which Bowie covered on Tonight in 1984.)

There’s a video, directed by artist Tony Oursler, in which Bowie’s anxious face is digitally superimposed on a two-headed puppet on a worktable in some sort of cluttered sculptor’s studio. And maybe this is just me refusing to let go of the Bowie-is-dead-or-dying story line, but for the first 2:30 or so it almost feels like the kind of video you’d create around a performer who was physically unable to participate much in video-making — and then around the three-minute mark, just as Bowie’s singing “As long as there’s fire,” we get a proof-of-life shot of Bowie, standing against a wall in a blue T-shirt that says SONG OF NORWAY on it. He’s looking at something; maybe he’s distressed. There’s a dog walking around at his feet. I find this moment incredibly moving. I always imagine that outside the world has ended and the only living things left are Bowie, the dog, and the puppet. Or maybe the puppet — whose other face is female — represents Bowie’s deformed cultural shadow-self, and Bowie is looking at it with pity or remorse, like something that both is and isn’t the real him.

We should probably also talk about the cover image for The Next Day, which I will describe with reasonable confidence as “advanced.”

From: Chuck Klosterman
To: Alex Pappademas
Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013, at 8:07 a.m.
Subject: Re: might as well start, eh?

“… for the first 2:30 or so it almost feels like the kind of video you’d create around a performer who was physically unable to participate …”

That’s such a perfect description of that video. At the very beginning, it seems like a song a bedridden Bowie might have recorded just before his secret death, and this video was intended to serve as the public announcement of his passing. But then you see him standing there, stoic and unamused, and it suddenly feels like he’s announcing the polar opposite. “I know you all thought I was dying, but I’m not dying. My clothes still fit. This is still my dog. Leave me alone.”

I’m certain that Bowie is aware many people feared he was dying. I’d like to believe this rumor seemed funny to him (in some Mark Twain sort of way), but maybe it was depressing. I mean, it would obviously be nice to see so many people steeling themselves for your demise and preparing themselves to mourn — it would prove that you were deeply loved. But you’d also be undeniably conscious of how life doesn’t stop for anyone. Every new morning, you’d look out the kitchen window and realize almost nothing would be different if you weren’t there. It’s strange to think about what the world will be like the day after you die; it’s strange to think that a few people will cry, a bunch of people will be sad for two weeks, and then everything will continue exactly as it always has.

I have not yet heard this new Bowie album, but a reliable source told me it sounds like what would have happened if those early ’90s Tin Machine records had been recorded and produced by more competent artists. That first single is apparently an anomaly, at least compared to the rest of the material (one song allegedly sounds like Elastica). There will be horns. I’ll be curious about all this, of course. But I’m mainly just happy this album exists, and that our e-mail exchange is going to end this way (instead of the way we expected).

This is the final missive from my end, friend. It’s time to let this alien live.||,||Grantland got a tip that David Bowie was dying. He did not. Here are the e-mails exchanged by two of our writers on his legacy while he (happily) stayed alive.

Filed Under: In Memoriam, Obituary, Celebrities, Chuck Klosterman, David Bowie, People

Chuck Klosterman is a contributing editor at Grantland and the author of eight books. The latest is I Wear the Black Hat.

Archive @ CKlosterman