Like much of the world, I was shocked this week when I learned of David Bowie’s death from cancer at the age of 69. He had just released the new album Blackstar two days prior to passing away, and I had heard nothing of his health being in rapid decline. I grew over the past few years to admire how Bowie would release albums and singles virtually out of nowhere, with little to no fanfare or hype, and then sort of vanish into the mist again. All part of the mystique, I suppose.

While I may have admired Bowie’s elusiveness, however, I can’t say I’ve ever been a particularly big fan of his music. He, unfortunately, ranks among the great legends of music I just never understood. I was never wild about his voice. I didn’t get all the crazy outfits and makeup and space references. His lyrics and melodies never really flowed together very well for me. Like everyone else in the 1980s, I knew “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” and “China Girl,” but I can’t say any of them were ever favorites of mine.

Still, when I heard he had passed away, I felt a certain sadness. I think maybe, ironically, the reason for this is because I knew very little about the man. I have this vague memory of seeing him on a Bing Crosby Christmas special, and he seemed so down to earth and, well, normal. He was also married to Iman for over 20 years, which is an eternity by rock star standards. He was the bad guy in Labyrinth. I didn’t really know about Ziggy Stardust or much of that. For all intents and purposes, David Bowie seemed like a pretty regular dude to me.

I do have one song featuring David Bowie on my iPod, a song on which he trades vocals with another iconic rock star who is no longer with us, Queen’s Freddie Mercury. Despite the fact that Vanilla Ice would ruin the song’s intro years later, I still remember hearing “Under Pressure” on the radio as a kid and being intrigued by it. It doesn’t really adhere to the traditional “verse/chorus/bridge” structure of most songs, so that is probably what first caught my ear. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I really caught what the song was saying.

“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.” Yes, this song really is about pressure. It also manages to express the hope we can convey to each other in such a stressful world, though. “And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night.” Goodness knows there are plenty of people out there like that. I read an article today written by Queen’s Brian May about how Bowie really dictated what the song would finally be about, and it shows a surprising depth to the man. “And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.”

So I will join with music fans all over the world now and say rest in peace to the Thin White Duke. I may not have understood him, but I will remember him always.

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