It’s the 1980s, mid to late, exact date decayed in the loam of memory, and I am in elementary school. Music class. We’re listening to an album, probably on cassette tape, of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The single-instrument trills are indelible, but only slightly less so the steady voice of the narrator, teaching by implication how music and story can coincide. I was so young. It could have been him.
It’s the very late 80s, or maybe the very early 90s, and I’m with my mother in Blockbuster Video. There are chunky CRT televisions bolted to the ceiling all around the store, playing a movie in which a man–I think it’s a man?–unlike any I’ve seen is friendly and terrifying and calls himself the Goblin King. I insist that my mother ask the employees what movie that is so we can rent it. I watch the illegal duplicate we make dozens of times.
It’s the late 90s, and I’m very impressed with the Beatles. “What’s amazing about them,” I explain to a contemporary, “is there are all these songs you just know. Tunes from all over that you’ve picked up through acculturation. And then you realize those were all the same band. All those different sounds, but just these four people.” It will only be a few years before I discover that, sometimes, all those songs you somehow know came from just one man.
It’s 2006, and I’m in my last year of college. I’ve just started dating a biologist who lives across the city. I discover that if I put my Ziggy Stardust CD in my car stereo when I leave my apartment, the final pleas of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” will be fading out when I reach her door. A bauble of secret knowledge I roll around my mind: my girlfriend lives exactly one Ziggy away.
It’s 2016, after midnight, and people on the internet are desperately trying to convince one another that the reports are a hoax. But only minutes pass before his son confirms it. Sitting in another window, his last album, just released, still waiting for a first listen. I hit play, and eloquent as ever, he says goodbye.