January 29 marks the release of a David Bowie tribute issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Following Bowie’s death on January 10, a great many artists spoke of the influence this controversial musician had made on their lives, their musical choices and their careers. That in itself is inspirational.
But it goes much deeper. Beyond the musical influence, beyond the stardom and the Fame (I had to get at least one Bowie song reference in somewhere), Bowie himself has a well-documented history of drug abuse and was well along the path to self-destruction as far back as the Ziggy Stardust days of the seventies.
There are many stories of wild excesses and behaviour that follow the traditional rock star pattern. But unlike many others that were chewed up and spit out by the intensity of living their lives in the media spotlight, Bowie somehow turned it around and came out the other side, stronger than ever.
A quick Google search for ‘Bowie saved my life’ returns page after page after page of stories of fans attributing their current happiness to this much missed musician and the meaning they perceived from his body of work. But that is fairly common to any number of deceased rock stars.
What is uncommon is that Bowie used what he had learned along his personal journey to help others in his sphere of influence to get clean, mentoring them and helping them get through to the other side, too. Iggy Pop, for one, attributes his continued presence on this earthly plane directly to Bowie. And he’s not alone.
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (NiN) speaks eloquently in the Rolling Stone tribute issue about his own struggle with drugs and says that without the support and belief in him which Bowie showed, he would not be here today. While touring together, Reznor recalls that despite being at the height of their career as NiN, he was at his personal lowest point. He also recalls something Bowie said to him, quietly and without reproach, during this time. “You know, there is a better way here, and it doesn’t have to end in despair or in death, in the bottom.”
Bowie was at that time clean, happily married, and enjoying life to the full as a father and husband, with a future and a family he could now embrace in peace. Having been that Low (sorry, couldn’t resist) himself, Bowie knew exactly how hard it could be to get clean. With simple grace and without judgement or lecture, he was for Reznor and many others simply an example of what life could offer when you walked away from drugs forever. Reznor focussed on that, and he did indeed come out the other side, with a little help from his friend.
Let’s let Reznor say it his way. This is a quote direct from the Rolling Stone article: “A few years later, Bowie came through L.A. I’d been sober for a fair amount of time. I wanted to thank him in the way that he helped me. And I reluctantly went backstage, feeling weird and ashamed, like, “Hey, I’m the guy that puked on the rug.” And again, I was met with warmth, and grace, and love. And I started to say, “Hey listen, I’ve been clean for …” I don’t even think I finished the sentence; I got a big hug. And he said, “I knew. I knew you’d do that. I knew you’d come out of that.” I have goosebumps right now just thinking about it. It was another very important moment in my life.
The power of faith in people, and belief in their own inner strength, cannot be underestimated. For those people that can no longer believe in themselves, the faith of others is often the only light they can see in their personal darkness. Be the light.