Getting into David Bowie as a kid also did quite a lot to open up my thinking on non-musical subjects: liberty, literacy, integrity, individuality, gender, and sexuality. Being a straight white middle school kid in the South and watching videos of my hero performing in a kimono, platforms, and heavy makeup -- well, it made me think twice about the hateful use of the word "gay" and "fag" being hurled about among my peers and their parents. Bowie's artistic choices helped me realize that gender norms are insignificant and the status quo is dull. He helped me to realize that the freedom touted by so many around me was a lie, as they were imprisoned by their own fears of the unusual and the unknown. And Bowie impressed upon me from an early age that sentimentality in one's writing or nostalgia in one's methods are the equivalent of artistic death. One must be honest even while in costume, and one must always look forward. I didn't necessarily process any of this on a conscious level as a kid or even a teenager, but Bowie set me on a path of curiosity and critical thinking for which I'm forever grateful.
His death in 2016 left me numb with disbelief. He wasn't a young man, but the extent of his genius had somehow duped my subconscious into believing he might be immortal, or at the very least, of a superior alien race that would outlive me and all of my friends. I didn't know I felt this way until he passed on, and the two years since his death have made it no easier to accept that my subconscious was wrong. I'm still processing the fact that he's gone.
The other great shock after his death was my gradual realization of just how many people loved him deeply. David Bowie has always been an outsider in my eyes, but his talent and showmanship allowed him to play that outsider on such a grand stage and in so many guises that he was able to connect with a ridiculous number of people over the course of his career. Of those who heard him and saw him, I began to comprehend just how few were able to walk away unmoved.