Sorry This Is Late: A Tribute to My Favorite Artist

Something happened on the day he died over three years ago. He sparked something in me that changed me forever and for the better.

Me at the Bowie Mural in Brixton, London.

It took for David Bowie to die for me to really discover who he was and the impact he made on the world with his art, and the impact he would eventually have on me. Now it’s taken three years for me to be able to articulate with any sort of coherence what he’s meant to me, and while this is certainly not the last of me writing about him, this is the beginning of my being as I am now.

At the time of his passing, I only knew maybe 5 Bowie songs. But it was enough that when I saw the notification on my phone that morning, I thought even then “How could David Bowie die? He was supposed to outlive all of us.” I saw the CNN update, thought “Aw, that’s sad” and went about my day as normal. When I got to school that day, I noticed a change in my friend Giulia. She was upset and all throughout 4th period Anatomy, she worked with her earbuds in and her head down. I asked her what she was listening to. “David Bowie” she said.

Giulia was the first person I saw that entire day to be visibly upset by his passing and her grief was the first I saw of his impact on the lives of real people. It’s always an odd phenomenon when celebrities die. In a way it’s nothing, people die all the time. But in a way it’s everything as we feel a small part of ourselves, the part that wouldn’t be there without them, die too.

A few weeks later, I was tasked with writing an art history essay for a scholarship. The prompt was to analyze a work of art for its social implications and I was given a list of artworks to choose from or I could select my own. Wanting to think outside the box and impress the judges, I selected my own. It took me another few days of pondering and searching, but eventually I came to the realization that David Bowie, simply as he lived and breathed, was walking, talking, living art. I created a thesis that to this day I have not perfected its argument, but I hypothesized that from the day David Robert Jones became David Bowie until the moment he took his final breath, everything in between was one great big exhibition in performance art.

Even his death was used to create art. His last music video, titled “Lazarus” shows Bowie with buttons covering his eyes as he lays in a bed and sings “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” He knew his days were numbered and he chose to spend his last days doing what he always did best-create and amaze.

I always say I found him when I needed him most. When I was a junior in high school, I was shy, quiet, and afraid of people knowing I existed, let alone had an opinion. But throughout Bowie’s life, he made one thing abundantly clear- never stop changing. When Bowie tired of one persona he created for himself, he would simply change direction and re-invent himself. Before Madonna or Lady Gaga, it was Bowie who perfected the art of self reinvention. He dedicated his life to always making art that inspired him and excited him and no one else. He created for himself, and no one else. David Bowie gave me the tools and the confidence to change the quiet person I was and become the driven person I am. And I know whoever I become next will bear his influence. In discovering him, I discovered myself. Over the course of the past three years I have spent studying him, reading anything I could about him, I still cannot intelligently articulate who he was, who he is , and who he will remain to be. My brain simply does not have the words.

While part of me is sad that he will never know of my gratitude, part of me is grateful that I will never feel the agony of being right in front of him and not saying everything I want to as I choke on my words in attempt to hide my awe of him and articulately express my deepest thanks in 15 seconds or less. So, if this is the only chance I have to say it- David, wherever you may be, from the bottom of my soul, thank you. I could not and would not be the person I am today or tomorrow without your being on this planet. The stars, indeed, look very different today.




music writer | photographer | pittsburgh

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Emma Christley

Emma Christley

music writer | photographer | pittsburgh

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