Since the inception of SlumberPartyMovies.com, we’ve had to say goodbye a few times. Harold Ramis got me choked up. Roger Ebert hurt a lot. I shed a few tears with him.
Losing David Bowie breaks my heart.
Typing that sentence, in fact, led to a torrent that required me to shut down this document, go to my work bathroom to compose myself, then head back out with my head down and my hair in my face. That’s happened a few times today.
None of us knew he was sick. He never seemed old. To the contrary, David Bowie always felt eternal. Yes, yes, his art is eternal, yadda yadda, but we all knew he’d never go, right? He would look distinguished and wise and beautiful, and then he would open that wide mouth and laugh like he could swallow the world, and look like joy. And that would go on forever.
David Bowie wasn’t some rock god in the way people think of all the men who fell around him back in the early 70s. He was a rock saint. He knew the power of music, and he understood the importance of his talent. He understood that the experience of great music isn’t just the words, the notes, the arrangement, the staging, the story, the voice, the instruments; it’s all of it, and the whole of that is so much more than the sum of its parts.
He knew he had a gift, and he was a responsible steward of his gift: he became a craftsman, too, experimenting and writing, always seeking perfection. David Bowie gave, and gave, and gave to us, knowing that anything less than perfection in all those aspects of rock music would be unfair to us, and unfair to his own capacity for greatness.
David Bowie knew his music could touch and help people, and I really believe that’s why he kept doing what he did: because doing anything less would be cheating us and himself. The proof of that was in his last act for his fans: a final farewell album and video that was autobiographical, even though we didn’t know it. He told us he was dying, but we wouldn’t believe it.
My personal story of David Bowie is one that’s still evolving. My parents listened to Motown and the Beach Boys, so David Bowie (beyond Blue Jean and China Girl) weren’t in my house regularly. I’ve only really been pursuing his work in the last 15 years; Hunky Dory is still my favorite, but I’m slowly growing a collection of all his work. I’m grateful I came to him this late in life, because I can spend the next 40 years making up for lost time.
Here’s one of my favorites from Hunky Dory, the sweetest lullabye ever written:
Except… yes, you knew this was coming. I wasn’t familiar with his music as a kid. Not until he found another creative genius who gave his own perfect gift compulsively and teamed up to make Labyrinth.
I’ve already done some posts on Labyrinth, of course. I also posted about My Very Bowie birthday over at my own blog. But let’s take a moment to talk more about Jareth. Like most girls my age (especially those of us who loved Muppets and fantasy and were pretty sure that there MUST be some other world just over the hill, if we said the right words, we’d make it there, and we’d escape this boring life, really we would!), Jareth marked my early sexual awakening. I was 11 when Labyrinth came out, and puberty was still two years away. I wasn’t conscious of I felt the first time Jareth shows up in Sarah’s parent’s bedroom, other than a confusing blend of yearning and fear. He was threatening, and I liked it.
Oh, you didn’t?
Jareth was domineering. He was a terrible person. He was bored and carried a riding crop like most people carry… well, no, no one carries anything like he carries a riding crop. He was supremely confident, and he seemed to really, really desire… Sarah? Her orders? To rule her? Seven minutes in the masquerade? He’s overbearing and bossy and generally would make a horrible boyfriend in any context. But some part of me knew, 30 years ago, that he’d have been a wildcat in the sack.
Is it any wonder Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey took off? Even so, that Grey guy has nothing on Jareth. Does he sing? I haven’t read the books, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t sing. I know Edward doesn’t sing. He’s stalkery, like Jareth, sure, but I’m also pretty sure he never shows up in a bitch-ass cloak made out of snowy owl feathers, so suck on that, Edward. TEAM JARETH.
Jareth pretty well embodies all that’s safe and scary and alluring about sex when you’re on the brink of puberty: it’s adult, it’s threatening, it has massive consequences. On the flip side, you’re the only thing an intense, confident man desires; he’ll be your slave (if you’ll be his) and he’s MAGIC. Like, an actual magic person. Who is also a king. And horribly manipulative, and man, are you gonna regret it in the morning…
… but there’s an escape clause. And that escape clause is not ever, ever, ever, giving a man like that any power over you. No matter how sexy and convincing is his argument, no matter how good he looks in tights: ultimately, you have the power. You get to say yes or no. And you should use that power.
And so she does. And she’s safe, at home, with all the best parts of him, and none of the scary ones. Lesson learned: fantasy is best when it’s dangerous. Reality should be safe, and good.
I grew up to marry a guy who looks great in eyeliner (although I wish he’d wear it, like, all the time, instead of only when my friends ask him to be in a video), but who is the direct opposite of Jareth. In fact, any time I’ve ever dated a guy who showed any Jareth-like qualities, I dropped a Sarah right quick, no-powered them, and they blew off like Hedwig on an express delivery.
That said: most fantasy romances I enjoy (and I read a LOT of them) have Jareths. For instance:
- Black Dagger Brotherhood: ultra-stud vampires who are possessive macho men, but ultimately bow to every command of their mates.
- A Discovery of Witches, featuring another ultra-possessive, domineering vampire in love with a kick-ass witch who doesn’t let him push her around.
- My favorite romantic lead on Buffy? Spike, of course. With his blond hair and eyeliner and British accent, his morals were so screwed, he tried to rape her once.
- The new Sherlock, who’s a self-described sociopath and an asshole to just about anyone who looks his way.
- Howl’s Moving Castle, which I don’t even have to explain; I’ll just show you a pic of the petulant wizard who lives in Baba Yaga’s walking castle.
My 5-yr-old daughter noticed the resemblance, too.
I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
In closing… well, back to tears, now. There would be no Jareth without David Bowie. There would be no Labyrinth without David Bowie. For me, Jareth is David Bowie, and David Bowie is Jareth, and now, some part of me knows I’ll never have that chance to follow the Labyrinth past the Goblin City, to see his lined, perfect face, begging me to stay.
I feel as though a piece of my heart is gone. And I know you do, too.