"He Smelled Slightly, Lightly Sweet" and Other Happy Memories of David Bowie

Jane met him, Marci's first illegally downloaded song was by him, and Lesley kind of got married because of him. What's your best memory of Bowie?
Publish date:
January 11, 2016
heroes, David Bowie, music, life on mars

This morning was not a good morning. This morning, the news that David Bowie had passed away at the age of 69 swept the internet.

Right now, the xoJane team is huddled around our computers playing Bowie's greatest hits without headphones (but quietly because everyone mourns in their own ways). Each one of us has a different favorite Bowie experience — some, *cough* JANE *cough* more personal than others — so join us in a tribute to one of the greatest musicians of literally all time.


Growing up in the ‘80s, I’d heard songs like “Let’s Dance” on the radio (no pun intended, truly), but they didn’t do anything for four-year-old me. It wasn’t until I was almost 22 that I really caught on to Bowie.

I think “Changes” was featured in a commercial or something, and it caught my attention. I was an intern at the time — 2001 — living without internet access in the apartment where I was a subtenant, and my fellow interns and I used to go to a huge internet café in Times Square to download music via Napster. My very first illegal download: “Changes.” I burned it onto a mix CD, and damn near wore it out playing it on repeat in my Discman. Hunky Dory has since become one of my favorite (and legitimately purchased) albums.


My top three David Bowie-related memories, as requested by lovely Amber/GG this morning:

1) Sitting on a blue beanbag chair with big ass headphones on, picking up a needle on my parents turntable to play the "Changes" track over and over again.

2) Starting a two person band with my friend Greg in college that was heavily influenced by "Let's Dance" and really terrible (partly but not limited to the fact that I was the singer).

3) Not telling Mr Bowie either of those things over dinner with him and Iman at a friend's house 15 years later, where he smelled really clean and slightly lightly sweet.


I wasn't glamorous enough to listen to Bowie on vinyl with the fancy pillheads I went to high school with; HOWEVER, I fell crazy in love with him at the age of six because I had a copy of Labyrinth on DVD, and this song still holds up:

STILL (seriously, I was confused about love to this song in middle school, high school, and college). Really, I owe almost all of Bowie exposure to my very cool mom for:

1) Taking me to see Moulin Rouge when I was 10. In the theater, I was promptly swept away by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman's rendition of "Heroes" during the Elephant Love Medley

2) Always playing "Space Oddity" on long night drives up to the Catskills where the lack of light pollution makes the sky more starshine than darkness and "I'm floating in a most peculiar way and the stars look very different today," is applicable on a very emotional level.

3) Allowing me to blare Jessica Lange's American Horror Story cover of "Life on Mars" in her kitchen on multiple occasions last summer.


My story is eerily similar to Marci's. I was going through a transitional period in my twenties, after deciding to give up on an academic career but with no idea what else I wanted to do, and I found myself listening to "Changes" several times a day because it was one thing that made me feel less helpless and scared, and less like a failure (man, those 20s, am I right?). I'd always liked Bowie songs here and there growing up, but "Changes" turned into my major Bowie gateway drug and wow, I am so grateful it happened.

Also, as a fun aside: on our second date, my husband and I were at a restaurant when "Modern Love" came on, and he suddenly started singing along. I was kind of ambivalent about him up until that point and was considering not seeing him again, but in that moment I was totally charmed and decided I liked him a lot. So, possibly, I am married today in part because of David Bowie.


Like Marci, I came to like Bowie later in life. You know those songs that are somewhat older than you are as a human but you grew up hearing and singing in a car… even if the version of lyrics you made up in your head was slightly or totally way off? That was "Young Americans" for me.

I probably finally realized what the song was and what it was about when I went to a '70s-night at a gay club in NYC (RIP Splash) and heard it as a dance remix in a drunken stupor. Which is how I come to figure out the lyrics of a lot of the songs I like, by the way. Since then, I’ve always loved that song and its full band and the different harmonious voices coming together on the track.


One of my "getting read" songs was "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" — when I was in my early/mid-20s and devoted to dark bars and loud bands. I'd shout "You're not alone!" with the music and feel all sexy and wild for a little while.

On the flip side, "Space Oddity " never fails to get me a little chocked up. It's so sad and beautiful and lonely. Last night, I slowed down and listened to a man sing "Space Oddity " in my subway station; I didn't even know that David Bowie was dying. It was eerie. The way the man's voice echoed in the subway passage, so sad and beautiful and lonely, I had to move on because I had a lump in my throat.

I also liked this quote from Guillermo del Toro:

When did David Bowie careen into your life? Share your favorite tracks, covers, and memories of Ziggy Stardust / Jareth the Goblin King / David Robert Jones in the comments.