My first reaction when I heard about David Bowie this morning was to put on Hunky Dory — something I can't even believe I'm writing, as I never would have thought I'd have a "first reaction" to Bowie's death. I didn't know I'd have a reaction at all, in fact; he seemed impossible to lose. It still seems impossible.
I first found my way to Bowie through my father, who had 1983's Let's Dance permanently installed in his car stereo for the better part of my childhood. I grew up on my dad's stories of seeing David Bowie perform in concert and always just assumed I would one day see Bowie perform too, even though he'd long since sworn off concerts by the time I was old enough to go to shows by myself.
But when I discovered David Bowie on my own terms, it was with 1971's Hunky Dory — an album I still believe to be his greatest, if not one of the greatest albums of all time. (You can listen to Hunky Dory on Spotify here.) For someone as prolific and ever-shifting as Bowie, the singer's fourth album is still the best chance we have to hear all the different shades of him in one go — the outer-space song alongside the song for kooks, a track about Andy Warhol following up a command to fill our hearts. Hunky Dory is both a "start here" album and an "end here" album, even though so many of us never thought there'd truly be an end. Blackstar, Bowie's latest album that was released on his 69th birthday Friday, is hailed to be as good as the stuff he was making in his so-called prime.
Fitting for an album representing David Bowie, Hunky Dory starts with "Changes" — a track The New York Times dubbed in their obituary Bowie's "anthem" if he ever had one. Its most quotable line right now might be the four-syllable punch of a perennial David Bowie truism: "Time. May. Change. Me."
But on a day like today, "Changes" sounds like something bigger — words to live by. "Turn and face the strange," Bowie sang. We did, and we are all better, more beautiful humans, aliens, and kooks for doing so.