"Are you sure you want that CD?" my dad asked as I pick ed up my first David Bowie CD. "Of course I do. Look, it has that song I like," I said, assuring myself it was worth seventeen dollars as I eyed the back of the case. We both looked at it suspiciously; it was a drawing of a mannequin-like Bowie with white makeup on his face, wearing a pale renaissance clown suit. He was looking to the side with a look of indifference on his face and a long cigarette dangling from his mouth. Almost embarrassed, I put the CD out of view and quickly paid for it.
As soon as it was in the CD player, I was sorry I had paid for it. The first song was blaring in my face and totally unlike anything I was used to. It just didn't make sense to me. Maybe it was because it didn't quite fit my idea of what music was supposed to be-- catchy radio tunes that give you a sort of quick fix, like eating a candy bar that gives you a burst of energy at the time but ultimately leaves you feeling cheated and unfulfilled.
Now I realize I didn't understand "Scary Monsters and Su percreeps" because it was taken out of context. I had bought a single Bowie CD, made right in the middle of his mannequin-like renaissance clown era. With one quick purchase at Tower Records I was dismissing his androgynous glittery Ziggy Stardust era, his hip "plastic-soul" era, his icily detached European era, his eighties-pop star era, and his more recent artsy experimental era. Each new CD I bought added another layer, until now, as I look at the twenty Bowie CDs that fill my CD case, one on top of another stretching to the top, I see a progression of characters that are somehow fused together into one person.
If I could pluck a single album from that mixture, a single song even, the structure of it would come tumbling down like a big avalanche of parts. There would be smoke and dust flying everywhere. And in the pile remaining would be a single song sitting there, not fitting in anywhere and seemingly hard to understand. Two years ago when I first put "Scary Monsters" into the CD player, it was like I was catching only part of a conversation, or reading one scene of a three act play.
To discount the rest of David Bowie's work is to belittle the effect he has had on me. I wish I knew how I first began my strange fascination with him, or why he didn't leave my mind after a few weeks like most singers do. But then I look at the poster hanging over my dresser, and I know. His dagger-like British teeth are barely visible under his self-mocking smile, and his brooding dramatic eyes look off to the side. He knows what he's doing. He's posing for a picture, and he decided ahead of time that he'd look off to the right and wear that glittery green space suit. He knows he can be whatever he wants: a space alien named Ziggy Stardust, a hip soulster named The Thin White Duke, or a theatrical renaissance clown. David Bowie is a carefully crafted, self-conscious human who is not content with endlessly replaying past hits and wearing the same green space suit, even if it is his most popular outfit yet. He has a need to reinvent himself, usually at the cost of commercial success. He is more concerned with doing what is interesting him at the moment, and if no one else cares about futuristic urban landscapes and Kabuki theater, that's okay.
I can be whatever I want, too. I can be a hard-working student on weekdays and a hip soulster on weekends. I can listen to the soft rock station for "people who don't like rap, heavy metal, or anything too loud" and flip to rap, heavy metal, and anything too loud during the commercial. And I can decide that I am a much different person than the girl who first picked up "Scary Monsters" two years ago.
To pluck out one single aspect of my life is to miss the rest of it. One snapshot of me chosen at random won't show the me of today, the me who dies her hair red one year and black the next, who loves the "Muppet Babies" and "Dollman vs. Demonic Toys," who doesn't care that half her friends have never heard of David Bowie. Because I am all of those people and want to be seen as all of those people fused into one. I see in myself all the things I've done and the possibility of all I will do. David Bowie has nothing on me.
Postscript This story was written as a college application essay (William and Mary). Laura is sure that it was the deciding factor that got her admitted!