In the midst of my friend (roommate, more accurately) having a psychotic—probably schizophrenic—break, I roam the streets of Berlin to get some time away from her. I can’t help her because she thinks I am Satan and that I’ve just crawled out of the floorboards to take her back to the depths of hell with me. It is January 10, 2016. The world is not aware of phrases like, “Donald Trump is ‘president’” or “COVID lockdown.” It’s a simpler time in so many ways, but none of us yet know it. And I think that, in all honesty, part of what served as a harbinger of this downward spiral into the present was the death of Bowie.
Sure, a lot of people would say that’s typical of everything that’s wrong with this world: this brand of celebrity worship. Attributing things to famous people that have nothing to do with them whatsoever. But Bowie wasn’t just “famous.” He was a force of nature. A ray of celestial light. And when that light got stubbed out too soon, it seemed a lot of people were starting to quickly feel the darkness of the next four years fall. An inexplicable blackness enveloping them and subsuming them until all that was left was a shell, a zombie.
Armed with the news of his death and the fear of Monika (who, in turn, fears me) back at the apartment, I don’t really know what to do with myself on that day, so I aimlessly wander until I get tired enough to stop into a coffee shop. After I order a cappuccino, I find it difficult to ignore a woman sitting next to me sobbing over a newspaper. Yes, she is of the age to still read newspapers. She has stringy, long gray hair and is dressed in the kind of black clothing that somehow looks only like witchy rags. When she glances up at me, she stops crying and says, “Did you hear? He’s dead. Bowie’s dead.”
I nod solemnly and say, “Yes, I heard.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but luckily (I guess), I didn’t have to. She keeps talking. She starts to tell me everything of how her fandom began. And in a flash, I can see that the piety and devotion once reserved for God has been transferred to Bowie, especially on this, his death day. Ursula proceeds to tell me that she’s been to every show he ever played in Germany, and had several encounters with him while he lived in Schöneberg. She claims to still live across the street from his former residence at Hauptstraße 155, but I have my doubts.
What I become most interested in, though, is the period in her fandom when she was part of BowieNet. Not only did Bowie foresee the future of technology—as well as music coalescing with technology—but he was also kind enough to provide everyone who joined the service (at a cost of $19.95 a month—because, again, this was still a novelty in 1998) with the inimitable email handle: @davidbowie.com. When Ursula tells me her email address was, thus, traurigesmädchen891@davidbowie.com, I think she must have been the coolest person in the world in that era. And look at her now, crying over a newspaper. Then again, she did forewarn she was a trauriges mädchen. I want to tell her, “Who isn’t?” And also, “I think Lana Del Rey stole your act.”
But I don’t, instead I just let her continue to tell me about various phases in her career as a fan, which means, essentially, reciting the different phases of Bowie’s career. Yet as she keeps talking, I get stuck on BowieNet. Even the internet was more innocent when Bowie was at the helm of it. Without him, it’s really devolved into quite a nightmare. It has no mark of “possibility,” so much as the mark of allowing us all to sink deeper and deeper into our own subjective realities. So maybe I take it back, maybe the death of all hope in humanity’s future came the day that Bowie logged off a.k.a. pulled the plug on BowieNet in 2006. After that, there was no more “verve” in “internet service provider.” And now, ten years on, as Bowie faded out into space, there wasn’t much verve in anything, least of all art.
After my chat with Ursula (or, more accurately, her monologue to me), I dare to return to the apartment, hoping I won’t see Monika. That she’s taken her severe episode to heart and decided to go to hospital. To my delight, she’s gone. I don’t actually care where, only that she is. I put on Blackstar and start to compose an email as though I’m writing it to Bowie. I feel a little bit stupid and silly, but then, when don’t I?
I proceed to tell him that the world won’t the be the same without his music, without his sorcery. That the world, in short, has become a lot less divinely weird without him in it. And that scares me. I know weirdness is dying out everywhere, and Bowie is just such a symbol of that. When I reach the end of my missive, I decide to send it to traurigesmädchen891@davidbowie.com. Might as well. Fuck it, and all that rot.
The following day, to my shock, I have a reply from the email that should be defunct. All it says is: “Annalise, do not go forward. Stop time now.” It wasn’t signed by Bowie, but I got the distinct feeling it was him from the great beyond. Space and the information superhighway converging long enough for him to write back through this dead email address. I think I presently know what the message meant. And I wish I had listened to it before it was too late. Before I knew too much. But now that I’ve seen it all unfold with such Boschian flair, I figure I might as well keep watching, and waiting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get further instruction soon enough from traurigesmädchen891@davidbowie.com.