Last Sunday, a saddening piece of news rocked music lovers everywhere. David Bowie, the legendary British rock star whose pioneering musicianship, edgy theatricality, and daring fashion sense inspired and challenged all who met him or heard him perform, was dead after an 18-month battle with liver cancer. Even NPO Radio 4’s news that Bowie had apparently been writing music “on his deathbed” did nothing to soften the blow as fans worldwide organized tributes in his honor.
According to Reuters, two Austinites — an unnamed sign maker and Roland Swenson, whom we all know as the co-founder of South By Southwest — answered the call to honor Bowie’s legacy by doing something very illegal, and yet, somehow poignantly appropriate.
They placed a sticker over the Bowie Street sign near downtown 5th Street, unofficially renaming the busy road to “David Bowie Street.” Bowie Street is named after fabled defender of the Alamo James “Jim” Bowie.
Technically, Swenson’s tribute should be classified as an act of vandalism, but city officials told KVUE that they would allow the sticker to remain in place for now.
“We appreciate Austin’s reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World and recognize David Bowie for all he did for the music industry and more,” stated the Austin Department of Transportation. “To this end, we will leave the sign up until Tuesday, January 19, so our community can enjoy the makeshift memorial a few days longer. At that time we will have to replace it with the real street name sign.”
Mayor Steve Adler seemed to express support for the memorial on Twitter:
Unless the City decides to officially change Bowie Street’s name before January 19, you only have two days to head down to 5th and Bowie to see the spectacle and pay your respects.
Unsurprisingly, many Austinites have expressed desire to see the name changed permanently. Leading that charge is Christiane Swenson, who according to the Austin Chronicle is every bit her father’s daughter. In just 4 days, her petition to the City of Austin has received 4,778 signatures.
Here are a few comments from petition signers that resonated with us:
“Austin’s street names should remind us of heroes, not giant knives.” – Charlie Sotelo, Austin, TX
“Jim Bowie renounced his citizenship, became a Mexican citizen. David Bowie pointedly chose to live in America. Jim Bowie was a slaver, buying and selling Africans, to build his fortune at their expense. David Bowie married an African, and a child with her, was dedicated to them. Jim Bowie is best known for his knife, and as a belligerent. David Bowie is best known for his music, writing, performances, art, acting, much of which was steeped in a keen understanding and empathy of the human condition.” — Marc English, Driftwood, TX