Tag Archives: david bowie

David Bowie Moved the Stars for… Me

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?

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.

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.

David Bowie of the 80s and Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, the Longform Video

In my 9th grade art class, I learned two things: how to draw a portrait using a grid, and that I sucked at art. I drew two portraits, one of Paul McCartney and one of David Bowie. I hated the McCartney one because I’d made one eye bigger than the other (a horrible premonition of my first passport photo?), but when I made a mistake on the Bowie one, I just just added a bunch of colorful abstract squiggles a la his Blue Jean makeup, and it came out looking cool. So cool I put it on my wall and kept it there until I felt silly for having one of my drawings up on the wall despite my suckiness as an artist.

When I first found out that David Bowie was not immortal, I thought of two things. The first was that drawing and the second was an article I’d read about the critical atmosphere around Bowie in the 80s. I can’t find the article, as it’s lost to the ephemera of the Internet, but the gist is as follows: In the 80s, music critics had accused, either outright or by insinuation,  Bowie of being a sell-out, sold to the shallow materialism of the decade: his lemon-haired, slick-suited Modern Love persona held up as proof. However, the writer (whose name, publication and/or serial number is also lost to the ephemera) claimed that with hindsight, it could be said that the 80s hadn’t claimed Bowie; Bowie had claimed the 80s. He wasn’t changed by the decade; he had become the decade and thus changed it.

bowie 4

Now, thinking about the bizarre, deft way in which Bowie lived his entire life, including his untimely death, as both a life both well-lived and as one long piece of performance art, I get it. Bowie was, and still is art. Bowie the artist, Bowie the man, even Bowie the skewed image drawn by a 14 year old girl with public-school issued pencils and craypas: all of it IS art. And while I sympathize with critics of the 80s who were so ready to write Bowie off as a washed-up sell-out, I think they should have been more hip to the art he had become while critiquing the artist he was.

bowie2

Take Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, the longform version of Bowie’s Blue Jean. It begins with Working-Class Bowie standing high above the street, putting up a poster of his alter-ego, Screamin Lord Byron, and ends inside a metal-screened elevator, rising ever higher above a broken-fourth-wall scene: higher and higher, but still caged, like Bowie’s career, caged in by the 80s even as it rose above it. Watch the video for yourself and pay close attention to the part where lovable loser, Working Class Bowie tries on a series of 80s fashions before finally settling on borrowing a slick suit from his well-dressed flatmate.

Slumber Party Movies Presents: Freshman Film Blue Book

Introducing a new feature here at SlumberPartyMovies: The Freshman Film Blue Book, where we take ourselves very, very seriously. Not too seriously, because seriously: We take these movies seriously, so there’s no “too” involved.

I’ve been mentally writing several chapters of my “Labyrinth” series for months–ever since we started the blog–but this weekend, we bought a 52″ plasma TV (that I may decide is too big; jury’s still out) and inaugurated it with watching “Labyrinth,” for no other reason than “Magic Dance” came up on my iPod, which immediately made my three-year-old insist we see the real thing in all its codpieced glory. She didn’t use the word codpiece, though.

I love a lot about the movie, for many reasons, but the biggest is that it’s fundamentally a coming-of-age story. And a coming-of-age story is nothing if not a loss of innocence: realizing that you’re not a kid anymore, that you have to grow up, and that that is both totally awesome, and massively sucky.

Sarah is dressed in princess garb  when we first meet her–over her jeans, no less–reciting lines from a book to her dog, who’s named Merlin. She fancies herself an abused stepdaughter, and although it’s never said, her mother was clearly a princess: she was a beautiful stage actress, wildly famous, and died young and recently. Sarah worships the ideal of her dead mother, who spent her life pretending to be other people, and hates her new mother, who has a boring, bad haircut, and her new half-brother, who she’s doomed to babysit every night that she doesn’t have a date, which by the sound of it, is every night.

In a nutshell, she makes a wish to lose the brother, and instantly knows she’d rather have a baby brother, safe and secure at home, than live her fantasy of being an only child. She engages on a quest to find him, and at the end, we see her taking down her clippings of her mother, hiding away the toys of her childhood, deciding that it’s time to start moving on and growing up.

The second, third, and fortieth viewings of the movie reveal that her room is peppered with characters from the labyrinth, from Hoggle to the Fieries to the Escher steps. The Goblin King’s there, too, standing right next to her mirror, all purple and blond. Which, of course, has all led us to wonder: how much of this is in her head?

We’ve all thought it, of course: any movie that ends with how it began makes a person wonder if it’s all a dream. But the thing that finally tipped the scales, that finally made me decide to take up the keyboard and tackle this blue book, is the best number in the movie: “Within You.”

This is the big finale, where she faces him for the final puzzle. The song is fantastic: “I move the stars for no one” is probably on a t-shirt at Hot Topic, and if it isn’t, it should be. According to Google, it’s also a popular lower back tattoo.

One of the main themes that repelled and attracted me (OK, mostly attracted), and makes my husband squeamish about the whole thing, is the sexual tension between Jareth and Sarah. He’s like 40+. She’s 14. Gross. Except hot. Especially when you’re 11. So here’s where I go all Intro to Film class, and make a wild suggestion: if the whole thing’s a dream, and every character in a dream is, essentially, you, then Jareth’s part of her. And he’s the part of her that’s trying to keep her in her dream world. Being that she’s 14, sexual tension is pretty much a given.

All of her friends are trying to help her escape; Jareth doesn’t just want to keep Toby. He wants Sarah. He wants her to be his queen–specifically, he wants to rule her so he can be her slave. Which, on the face of it, is a big WTF–you rule me and you’re MY slave? But it makes sense, taken in the context of imagination. If you let your fantasies rule you, it seems as though you can do whatever you want. In fact, Jennifer Connolly herself grows up to marry a guy who solves spy secrets for a supersecret government agency… in his head. Lesson being: you can do whatever you want in your fantasies, but you’re not really living, because you’re obeying them as much as you think they obey you. After all, Sarah wished that her brother be taken away, and he was, and she realized, in that second, that wishes can bite. You can’t always get what you want, but when you do, you don’t always want what you get.

The big a-ha moment for me was the beautiful moment at 1:38, when Jareth sings, “I…. I… can’t live within you,” and makes the saddest, most disappointed face ever seen on a supervillain. He’s crushed. But he’s also resigned. He can’t have her. She’s beating him. The phrasing is what’s important: I can’t live within you. Major sexual undertones aside, he’s realizing that, when faced with adult responsibility and the high stakes of losing her baby brother, she’s rejecting living in her fantasy. Her fantasy can’t live within her anymore, and she finds that bitterly disappointing.

Moments later, she realizes the only way to get to her brother is to take a leap of faith. And she does. And then she faces down her fantasy with her best tool: the magic words her mother gave her. He has no power over her. She controls her fantasies, her imagination, and the game is up: she can be a grown-up. But she can also live in her imagination, as long as she doesn’t let it rule her.

Which is pretty much what I’ve been striving for my entire life. The reason I love stories set in a realistic setting, but with fantastical elements, is that there’s always a part of me that’s pretty sure I am a Muggle, and that there’s a school out there I don’t know about where some lucky kids get to do magic tricks. There’s a young woman who kicks ass against the forces of darkness so I can live in relative normality, sheltered from the vampires and the demons. And I will never, ever wish that the goblins will come and take Gillian away, no matter how fussy she is. Just in case.

P.S. When I saw this in a theater last year, the first five seconds of that last clip sent the audience into paroxysms of catcalling. Just yesterday, my daughter said, “He’s a princess! He’s so pretty! But he’s going to fall in his dress!”