I was never a big David Bowie fan. I recognize his contribution to music and admire his long a career, I was just never a fan.
With one exception.
Seeing SE7EN in the theatre was a transformative experience and it remains one of my favourite films. I was just out of school and looking for a job to become the adult I had been told my whole life that I needed to become as quickly as possible. But instead of opportunity, I found closed doors, arrogance and hypocrisy in this grown-up world I was supposed to join. I was frustrated, angry and jaded.
And here was this film where the bad guy dies but the good guys lose. Where a pregnant woman is beheaded (offscreen) to make a point. It’s always raining, people bicker more than cooperate and nothing is ever clean. We never know why John Doe does what he does, just that he was twistedly brilliant. And the universe doesn’t give a fuck about any of us.
I walked out realizing the Baby Boomer era of films—where the hero can get shot by a large caliber gun in the climax, but is pain-free and laughing with his buddies five minutes later in the closing comedic beat—was done. (Or, I’d hoped.) This was a movie that matched my pessimistic outlook and opinion of people. I never knew cinema could be like that.
The movie kicked off with a remix of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, a band I had just gotten into a few years earlier. That already put me in the right mood.
But when the credits rolled (downwards, opposite what you’d expect) it was Bowie’s “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” that played. Dark and brooding, it was the perfect song for sitting in stunned silence and trying to contemplate what you had just seen. (And soon after, Bowie would collaborate with Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor for “I’m Afraid of Americans”.)
I realize that over a decades-long career, this song is relatively unimportant, but it is what I will always think of when I think about David Bowie—his voice washing over me, the industrial sound, the realization that being a grown-up would be mostly disappointment, tedium and frustration. That moment was a turning point in my life, and Bowie was its soundtrack. Hearing it still sends chills up my spine.
Thank you, David Bowie.