I don’t believe in heroes

David Bowie performing at the Hammersmith Apollo

It’s unfair to designate someone a hero. Heroes are brave, wise, honorable, honest, and noble exemplars. And if you poke deeply enough into a real person’s life, you’ll likely be disappointed at what you find, what with humans being inclined toward selfishness, spite, and bad decision making. How can we expect someone to live up to the impossible standard of “hero” for one day, much less forever?

Ok, so what is Bowie to me? Beyond all doubt, a musical genius. Most artists stick to the one thing they do well and typically embarrass themselves when they venture outside those cozy confines. Bowie jumped musical genres like a nimble 9-year-old playing hopscotch, effortlessly trying on rock, pop, electronica, techno, folk, glam, R&B, and just about any other kind of popular music style you can name.

Yet, I can’t call him a musical inspiration. His songwriting and lyrical prowess is so far beyond my own that I am unable to channel even a feeble likeness of it. Hunky Dory is the very first album I ever bought, and it’s still my favorite. Every song on it would be the best song most other musicians ever wrote.

Bowie was also avant garde in every aspect of his artistry, be it his clothes, his music, his stage show, or his ever-changing persona. He was a charismatic actor, a playwright, and maybe even an alien. But not my hero. He smoked heavily and became addicted to cocaine and no doubt acted like an arrogant prick at times in the early days of fame. He surely disappointed people throughout his life and may have been rude to a fan or two.

Well, I guess there are two heroic aspects to Bowie, because they inspire admiration in me, and admiration is the main ingredient when you set out to make a hero for yourself. One:  After the Let’s Dance album sold a bajillion copies, Bowie could have spent the next 30 years reaping countless riches doing greatest-hits stadium tours. Space Oddity. Changes. Life on Mars. Ziggy Stardust. Starman. Young Americans. Rebel Rebel. Suffragette City. Ashes to Ashes. Let’s Dance. Modern Love. China Girl. Cat People. Under Pressure. LatherRinseRepeat.

Instead, Bowie continued his experimentation with such commercially inaccessible releases as Earthling, an unmelodic album laden with hard techno grooves that were sure to alienate the “greatest hits” crowd.

Two: Whether releasing albums he knew wouldn’t sell many copies (because he wanted to do something new), or dressing as a woman in public, or performing on Soul Train, or doing whatever otherwise struck his artistic fancy, he didn’t care what you, I, or anyone thought about it. He believed in his vision and followed his muse, and he didn’t need beta listeners or approval from anyone calling himself an expert.

Ok. On that count, I’ll let Bowie be my hero. Just for one day.


28 responses to “I don’t believe in heroes

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Have missed your commentary – sorry it took something this sad.

  • LindaGHill

    I think we can all be heroes, even if it’s just for the minute it takes to do battle with a big-assed spider on the ceiling. Bowie though? For all that I knew him, he was one of mine.
    Nice to see you, Eric. 🙂

  • Kevin Brennan

    Dude! You’re aliiiiiiiive!

    Man, I agree with you completely about DB. He usually wasn’t my cuppa tea, but whenever I dabble in his catalog I find amazing surprises and always the highest craftsmanship. More and more I admire his adept handling of the marketplace, not cynically but completely aware of himself and his meanings. And he seemed to have a perfect ear for the limits that would be tolerated at any given time.

    I met a woman once who claimed to have been his girlfriend for a while. She had a broken leg when I knew her. I’ll always imagine David Bowie having his way with a woman in a full-leg cast as a result, and it’s entirely believable.

    Nice to see you, m’man!

    • ericjbaker

      Yeah, I’m still kicking around. Glad to see you!

      Well said about Bowie understanding just how far he could push something, maybe even going an inch past and forcing our ears to catch up. I gotta say, famous people die all the time, even ones we like, but losing Bowie is bigger to me than I would have expected. I’ve been listening to his music since I was probably 7 or 8. All the other artists I liked back then were already history (Beatles, et al).

  • 1WriteWay

    Hey, I’ve missed you!!! Glad you’re still around. Always makes me a bit nervous when a blog just goes completely quiet. The rockers are aging out so if you only write a post when someone dies, well, it probably won’t be too long before you post again. To consider Bowie a hero, I would add: (3) Kept his private life private … as much as one can in his world anyway. I had no idea that he had cancer and I admire him to keeping that private. I was shocked at first and then caught myself because it was none of my bloody business anyway.

    I was never a huge fan of Bowie, but I did enjoy much of his music and his other talents. I do greatly admire him for pushing his talents, to not only try to new things but to do so with all his skill and intellect. He never produced anything shoddy.

    Don’t be a stranger, Eric 😉

    • ericjbaker

      Hi! Sorry I have been a stranger. I just haven’t felt that inspired to post recently.

      I actually thought about the privacy thing this morning. So many celebs these days seem to be famous for being famous, and whether we want to or not, we have to hear about their kids and their cars and where they had dinner and so on. Bowie put his art out there but didn’t live in the spotlight otherwise.

  • Hariod Brawn

    A proper artist; driven by a desire for recognition for many a year, yet still a proper artist throughout nonetheless, in a world of many fakes.

    • ericjbaker

      Offhand, I’d say the ratio is 1 artist per 20 narcissists in the entertainment biz, but I may be being generous.

      • Hariod Brawn

        Did you ever work in that sphere Eric? It sounds like you have some experience of it. I worked in the Music Industry most of my life, and had the pleasure of meeting DB on a one-to-one over coffee once. A friend of mine was in his band on a world tour too, and had some fabulous anecdotes to tell about the man.

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Hey – look who it is! Like Alicia said, it’s too bad something sad brought you around, but it’s important to honour our hero-not-heroes. My first exposure to David Bowie was in the movie Labyrinth – man, we he sexy in a somewhat frightening kind of way. I also love that he married Iman – the two of them seemed happy together. I only know some of his more popular songs, but all the outpouring of emotion at his loss is encouraging me to explore his work more closely.

    • ericjbaker


      Bowie’s musical catalog is so deep with exploration and experimentation. If you listen to one thing and hate it, move on to the next thing, because you may fall in love with it. I’ve encountered other Bowie fans I couldn’t even engage with about Bowie because they hated the ones I love and vice versa!

      That said, I don’t know how anyone would dislike Hunky Dory. Every track on that record is brilliant.

  • livelytwist

    We grow up to realize there are no perfect heroes only people who choose courage in the face of fear. I think perhaps the first heroes to disappoint are our parents …. 🙂

    Bowie was extraordinary. Could it be that he could ‘afford’ to take chances after he had made it some?

    A deserving tribute from a fan; in the end, he touched your life and many others, and that counts.

    • ericjbaker

      Hi, Timi! I hope you’ve been well.

      Comedian and actor Steve Martin has been quoted as saying, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” That appears to have been Bowie’s philosophy as well. I’m still trying to figure out how!

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I agree with the others, you’ve been missed, Eric. I’m happy you popped by my blog today because WP dropped you from my feed. I thought about you after Bowie passed and then Glenn Frey. It’s good to see you writing a bit. Next time, don’t wait until someone dies.

    • ericjbaker

      Good idea! I do peek at my WP feed from time to time and haven’t seen you in there (I know you post on Fridays). I saw your post today and expected you to be like “I’m back!,” but apparently you never went away. Sneaky WordPress!

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