“Hunky Dory,” Gratitude, and Zombies

When I first heard “Hunky Dory,” I was in a dark place. I was in active addiction, active in my eating disorder; I was a repressed, depressed person, and nothing made me happy like it used to. I didn’t care about my old hobbies or my attempts to get new ones, I wasn’t ready to get sober yet, I didn’t even know it was an option, and I was living in a gray fog, a perpetual malaise. When not drunk or high, I was always feeling hung-over, weak, sick, tired, hungry, or all of them at once. Sometimes I felt angry or sad, but mostly I just didn’t feel anything. I couldn’t stand my family and I thought my friends didn’t care for me. I was bitter and lonely, isolated in the extreme, and constantly numbing myself through substances and compulsions. I was a zombie, without thinking or feeling, just going through the motions, without hope and without love.

A friend of mine had put “Life on Mars?” on a mix CD for me. Up to that point, I had only ever known the name David Bowie as an obscure figure of eighties pop culture, someone whose music I had no reason to pay attention to… until I heard “Life on Mars”.
“Life on Mars” was unlike any other song I had ever heard. Ever. It was weird and symphonic and epic, it was profound but whimsical but cynical and smart, it sounded absolutely beautiful. I loved it. The string section made me weep, the phone ringing at the end made me smile, the piano at the beginning grabbed my attention and has ensnared me for life. I eagerly downloaded the rest of “Hunky Dory”. For the first time, I heard “Oh! You Pretty Things” and “Fill Your Heart.”

I heard God.

The mothership had landed.

Like Dorothy stepping out into Oz, as I listened to more Bowie, the world took on a kind of color again, a vibrance, a shade of brilliance that told me that life might somehow be worth living.

“Hunky Dory” saved my life.

It’d be three more years until I actually got sober. I slogged through those last years of active addiction clinging to Bowie’s music like a buoy in a storm. Nothing in life brought me joy the way Bowie did. Once I got sober, my appreciation for Bowie’s work has gotten ever deeper and more profound and far-reaching. His work has carried me through the most difficult years of my life— and the greatest times of my life as well. I firmly believe that with hundreds of songs to pick from, there’s a Bowie for every occasion, whether I feel so lonely I could die, or feel the need to move on, or if I’m only dancing.

Or if I’m a Blackstar.

“Hunky Dory” had such a profound effect on me and my life that I spent years trying to craft a fan letter to Bowie, but it never felt quite right. I could never quite capture the intensity of my feelings or the depth of my gratitude, nor could I figure out how to convey it in a way that didn’t sound completely psychotic. At this point in my life journey, I am a deeply spiritual (non-religious) person, and I think that when we pass on, we come to know everything. So I like to think that Bowie, in whatever form he might still exist, knows exactly how I feel and how much his music has done for me and countless others like me.

Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but I’m not going to pick this album apart like I’ve done with the others. I started to, but it didn’t feel quite right. I know this post is shorter than the others and a few hours overdue, but I’m going to leave it at that for now.