We can be heroes.

You will read a lot about David Bowie over the next few days, as news of his death to cancer spreads. A tremendous artist, musician, songwriter, singer, and performer, and by all accounts, a human being with a gift for making his friends laugh.

Here’s one common theme you’ll find in many of the personal stories and posts: David Bowie opened us, showed us something new, different. In my small town world of the 1970’s and 1980’s, different did not seem to be a good thing.

And then I listened to Heroes.

Over and over and over. And over. (On vinyl, of course, fellow retro-lovers.)

I saw Bowie’s picture on the cover and fell in love, like a lot of teenage girls. But I also fell in love with the music, the words, the stories he told. They were delightful and troubling, odd and familiar, rock and new wave and punk and orchestral.

Mostly, they were different. In 1977, the Top 40 radio stations we could get played ABBA, Rod Stewart, KC and the Sunshine Band, Andy Gibb. It’s not that they were bad, it’s just that they were, well, kind of the same.

Bowie’s music was different. He looked different. (And sometimes, let’s admit, not healthy.) He gave boys permission to paint faces and girls permission to be imperfect. “Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress.” Even your mother is not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.

That permission to be ourselves, no matter how different, is a lasting gift. Maybe one of Bowie’s most important gifts to the world, and maybe one of the most important gifts all creative types can offer.

Listen to the track that is circulating of Bowie and Freddy Mercury singing Pressure – vocals only. Remember that Fame was co-written by John Lennon. Really pay attention to the lyrics of Young Americans and think about this election season. Picture him Dancing in the Streets with Mick Jagger. Remember the story of Ziggy Stardust, and how his band fantasized about crushing his sweet hands.

Weep when Major Tom asks us to “tell my wife I love her very much. She knows.”

She knows.

David Bowie made a lot of music I love. But even now, nearly forty years later, I come back to Heroes.

“Nothing, nothing will keep us together. But we can be heroes, forever and ever.”

Three amazing versions of this song:

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