I’m camped out in Beermongers on SE Division, nursing a Sour Cherry Torment (dark, heavy, malty, and riddled with sour cherry) and waiting out the typically schizophrenic weather of springtime Portland.
I sat at the long, narrow table in the center of the room, again nursing a beer and racking my brain for something to write about, when an older man sat down across from me with a newspaper.
He seemed an aging hippie/biker type- loose jeans, sandals, long grey beard tied up carefully, and equally long hair hanging free. He was well-ensconced in his paper, and I certainly had no claim on the whole table, so I carried on with my typing and took little more notice of him.
Then the man slapped the newspaper down on the table, covered his face in his large, gnarled hands and started openly weeping.
Right… that’s a little strange.
I look around my screen and ask if he’s alright. He shakes his head and jabs a finger at an article he was reading. David Bowie had just died, and the newspaper had a little retrospective on his life.
“Oh… yeah, that really sucks. You were a big fan, I guess?”
The man shook his head and said, “You don’t get it, dude. I f***ing HATED him.”
If any of you ever read Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” you know what kind of weirdness can come out of a hoary old stranger bent on telling you his life story. If you didn’t… well, I guess you just didn’t do too well in English sophomore year.
This guy didn’t exactly have a bewitching eye, and didn’t seem bound under a curse of penance- all the same I gave up on writing that day and shut off my iPad as the man told his story.
“As soon as I heard him spouting that shit, I turned him right off, man. Another f***ing Nazi, right? ‘F*** him’, I thought.” The old man rubbed a few tears from his eyes as he spoke and looked back at the article.
“I wrote him off, right? Never listened to anything else he did, EVER. He was in movies, I never saw them. On the radio, I switched the station. Now he’s dead, and I’m learning that shit was all a phase! Like, he said it was all because he was bent like a paper clip on cocaine- well who the f*** wasn’t then, right?!”
“Now I learn about all the great stuff he did after I turned him off. Charity work, great art, great music- I missed all of it cause I looked at the wrong time and made a judgment.”
The mans tears started up again. “I feel like an asshole, man… I got so much to catch up on.”
The old man cheers up a bit as he tells me more of his concert-going exploits- big names I know from my parents record collection and oldies stations that he got to see in the flesh. Part of me kinda wonders his thoughts on Pink Floyd, particularly The Wall movie, but it never comes up.
Eventually, he thanks me for listening, gets up and leaves.
I still can’t write.
How many of us write off Thin White Dukes and, in so doing, lose Bowies long before they die?
Do we justify it? Do we mourn later?
Do we confess our sins to strangers in bars, even if they aren’t necessarily sins?
Righteousness can feel addictive, and severing connection with others can be welcome- sometimes, it is necessary.
Sometimes, however, we simply miss out on the rest of their lives. Whether or not that is worthwhile… I can’t begin to answer that.
I am not necessarily a sadder man for that conversation, but I’d like to believe a wiser one. I don’t remember the man’s name, or if- like the Ancient Mariner- he had to find another kid in a bar and tell him the story, guided by some divine will for whose night he’s going to interrupt. Either way, I hope he finds something in Bowie’s legacy and discography to ease his mind. Spelunking for new music is rarely a bad thing.