You don’t have to dwell on your own mortality to know that you’re going to die. We’re all going to die. It’s a fact of life.

Yet so is David Bowie. His music has been a cultural touchstone for nearly half a century. But unlike with so much other music, his image (make that plural, if you like) has been there all along. David Bowie was an icon in a sense that was always rare and now is all but extinct. As he pushed on through the years, although his reinventions of self were far less dramatic and got far less coverage than his metamorphoses between 1968 and 1983, even when pop culture wasn’t paying much attention, he carried his iconicity with him. Most of the rest of us were satisfied that our cell phone numbers finally became portable; David Bowie got to keep being David Bowie—all the David Bowies—as he moved on from Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and the “Let’s Dance” guy in that sharp, sharp suit.

Music is always a present-tense experience. It’s a happening, an unfolding. Put on “Moonage Daydream” and it’s eternally that exact 4min37sec, preserved from a moment and time that reappears in the present at your command. That ability to capture and relive time is immensely comforting.

With David Bowie and his iconicity, an extra layer of permanence is projected onto the man. Those iconic images attached themselves to those iconic sounds—a feat almost unheard of prior to MTV—and so the David Bowie singing “‘Heroes'” is always the David Bowie making those space-age gang signs with the leather jacket, feathered quaff, and those haunted, haunting eyes.

We watched him age, but no-one ever aged more gracefully. No-one ever remained more reminiscent of the person he once was. David Bowie was David Bowie on a continuum, not some sad shell of former greatness. He was always David Bowie the icon, and icons are immortal.

Icons, but not humans. Today, 2016-January-10, we were all reminded that David Bowie was all too mortal. It is an unimaginable shock, one we continue to have difficulty processing because David Bowie the icon is as alive today as he was yesterday. I can hear his voice right now.

That’s also the good news. David Bowie the icon will live tomorrow, and the next day, and longer than you or I, and probably for as long as humans hear music, and maybe longer still. There’s a starman waiting in the sky, and he will forever sing his song.