by Jerusha Gray
I first met you as a tiny girl. My eldest sister introduced us. She and I danced to your music pumping through the cassette deck in her room. We’ve been friends, your music and I, ever since.
I was lying in bed last night, getting ready to finally turn off the lights and let sleep take me. I scrolled through my social media feed. I saw a post that you died. I scrambled to fact-check and the news feed brought a damning hammer down on me. He’s dead. Holy crap. David Bowie is dead. I sent a text to my friend Julie. “Bowie is dead… My heart is aching.”
Last Friday I was celebrating your birthday and album release with my dear friend River. I superimposed their face on your Aladdin Sane cover. It feels like ages ago.
I am an artist. This pulsing brain between my ears beats to a different drum, too. Your music reminds me to keep going, keep making, and take no notice if it doesn’t match what other people are doing.
I keep your quotes in the tattered journal I carry. I scribble scraps of thoughts in the margins. I thumbed through it this morning, each quote jumping out at me anew.
“Once I’ve written something it tends to run away from me. I don’t seem to have any part of it—it’s no longer my piece of writing.”
Once I’ve birthed this new thing in the world, be it a painting or an article, a song, or even my child, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. I’ve breathed life into it. It belongs now to the universe and unto itself. I could waste energy trying to hold onto this thing, but that is time ill spent. Keep moving. Create and release.
You remind me that it is okay for my voice to mature and change. I can give myself permission to change my mind and go in different directions. We are in the process of dying and being reborn over and over again. Of course the things that I create will change over time. I need to have some grace and a sense of humor. I am not the same person I was yesterday. My work is not the same it was yesterday.
“I reinvented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman.”
You taught me to first create for myself. I am my own first and most important audience. Not everyone will like or even truly understand everything that comes out of my brain. That is all right. It means I am on the right track. I need to rock hard and make shit that turns me on. If other people like it, too, that’s a bonus.
“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.”
“I think it all comes back to being very selfish as an artist. I mean, I really do just write and record what interests me and I do approach the stage shows in much the same way.”
The work will stand on its own two feet. I need to get out of the way and let it do its job.
“I had to resign myself, many years ago, that I’m not too articulate when it comes to explaining how I feel about things. But my music does it for me. It really does.”
There is this whole universe inside me and streaming through my fingertips. Ideas and concepts that have no edges bump into one another. Lives are beginning and ending in constant rhythm. It is for me to stay awake and listen. They are here for me to find and figure out a way to make sense of it through the work I was born to do.
“There, in the chords and melodies, is everything I wanted to say. The words just jolly it along. It’s always been my way of expressing what for me is inexpressible by any other means.”
There are no new quotes of yours to add to my journal now that you are gone. It is up to me to write my own songs now.
Thank you for making such beautiful music for the soundtrack to my life.
I am grateful for you and I carry you with me always.
Photo credit: “Bowie Is Watching You” by Sarah Stierch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores. Find her on Instagram @palegrayink and at www.facebook.com/palegrayink. This piece was originally shared Sept. 29, 2015 at www.facebook.com/palegrayink.