5 David Bowie songs that shaped my teenhood

In high school, there was no living, human person I thought cooler than David Bowie. His appeal and his beauty were the stuff of myth: His sound was socially-conscious, defiantly sexy, and not easy to explain. It was the kind of music you wanted to kiss someone slowly to, in a car that was still running in front of your parents’ house. And at fifteen, before I knew anything about David Bowie, I knew David Bowie was important.

And he was. Bands from Joy Division to musicians like Lady Gaga and FKA twigs drew inspiration from Bowie’s endless wealth of bizarre and wonderful. Almost every band I listened to had, in some way, shape, or form, borrowed something of Bowie’s: His vibrant aesthetic, his dips in disco and electro and psychedelia, his ability to transform without losing his sense of self, his staunch refusal to fit in a mold.

Most of all, Bowie was important because he was the shimmery, give-no-fucks mascot every single weirdo desperately needed — myself included. I needed to see a person live their life to such shiny fullness. I needed to see a person express their creativity and allow no one to stop them. David Bowie was that person.

Bowie is gone now, and all I can do is replay the songs that meant the most to me when I was a teenager who felt grossly misunderstood and weird and like I didn’t matter. These are the songs that made me feel understood, that made me feel like I did matter — songs that taught me being weird was and is something to embrace, always. These five — especially these five — are those songs.

1. “Heroes”


Because this was the most romantic us versus them song in the world. This song was meant to be sung loudly, and with so much hope in your heart, it might just burst.

2. “Changes”

The most beautiful song about the passage of time and self. The end.

3. “Queen Bitch”

Was my Myspace name “Queen Bitch” for a while? GUILTY. “Queen Bitch” made me feel sexy and fun and subversive. It made me want to saunter and smize.

4. “Life on Mars”


Isn’t this the saddest song of all? All of our dreams (and oh, we have so many) are just crippling and materialistic; and isn’t life just the most bizarre thing ever, and what are we really doing here?

5. “Jean Genie”


So. I drove to Seattle with my parents when I was sixteen for a family road trip, and it was just the three of us, and I was fighting with my best friend, and I was weepy and snotty and feeling all kinds of bad for myself. Especially since I was stuck in a car for like, five hundred hours, driving up the coast. But after hearing this song for the first time on my CD player, there was something inexplicably empowering about it. It made me want to stomp. And strut. And never look at my feet as I walked down a street filled with people. I didn’t even know what “Jean Genie” was about, I just knew that someday I would stomp, and strut, and look straight forward as I walked.

And guess what? I totally did.

(Image via Getty / Michael Ochs Archives)