Of David Bowie, Java and Bali

Planet Earth woke to the news that rock icon David Bowie had died at the age of 69.

An artist in the truest sense of the world, ever-changing and trend-setting, Bowie was acclaimed as he journeyed through roles as songwriter, producer, actor and performer.

Jon Pareles of The New York Times writes:

Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His music was always a mutable blend — rock, cabaret, jazz and what he called “plastic soul” — but it was suffused with genuine soul. He also captured the drama and longing of everyday life, enough to give him No. 1 pop hits like “Let’s Dance.”

In concerts and videos, Mr. Bowie’s costumes and imagery traversed styles, eras and continents, from German Expressionism to commedia dell’arte to Japanese kimonos to spacesuits. He set an example, and a challenge, for every arena spectacle in his wake.

Countless teenagers related to his message, and I was no different. In senior year of high school, my band played the annual student pep rally. Among the songs in our four sets was the seminal “Ziggy Stardust.” In my mind, it sounded like this live performance by Bowie himself, but memory might be more generous than actuality.

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Did David Bowie want to live near Mount Merapi in central Java, above, or the black-sand beaches of Amed, in northern Bali, pictured at top? (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

Having read various obituaries, tributes and retrospective pieces on Bowie, I relived how his music had always provided a measure of comfort and how — even though his music was almost two decades old — the sounds he dreamed up were still light-years more dynamic and singular than so much else in pop culture.

One funny August 1998 magazine feature Bowie answered was the last related item I read. One example:

What is your favorite journey?
The road of artistic excess.

Witty, irreverent and insightful, his responses to the Vanity Fair “Proust Questionnaire” also included this exchange:

Where would you like to live?
Northeast Bali or south Java.

By Java, did he mean Jogyakarta — Javanese for “beautiful,” “happy” and “prosperous” — or the 9th century Hindu temple at Prambanan? By northeast Bali, was he referring to the black-sand beaches of Amed? Was he joking, or expressing a whim?

It doesn’t matter. There was a small satisfaction in knowing that Bowie and I shared a similar warm sentiment about a far-off land.

Rest in peace, Ziggy Stardust.

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