David Bowie Has Died Aged 69.
“His death was no different than his life – a work of art. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us” – Tony Visconti.
“Time may change me
But you can’t trace time.”
My earliest memory of David Bowie, who has died from cancer at his home in New York aged 69, was on the video of Ashes To Ashes in 1980. At that point, video was the medium transforming pop music. Bowie – who had spent that previous decade not only transforming but transcending “popular” music – always keenly embraced new styles and technologies.
One of the very few multi-talented individuals able to define what pop music/culture could – and should – be about, he was so much more than just a singer. Ultimately, he was a true artist – one of the most influential of his era – with a knack for staying relevant.
And being confrontational, whether it was pushing down cultural, social, or even sexual boundaries.
What gave the music, the look and the ever-changing style such mass appeal was its power to register with all the misfits, geeks and outsiders who couldn’t “fit in.” As someone who didn’t want to fit in, his love of sci-fi seemed to mirror my own.
Besides, hits such as Life On Mars, Starman, Jean Genie, Heroes (and many others, fortunately for us) will always be great, enduring pop classics.
“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.”
“David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is” – Iggy Pop.
“There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds”
One of the defining traits of David Bowie, in a career spanning 51 years, was his ability to experiment with different personas. From his commercial breakthrough single: Space Oddity to the glam-rock of Ziggy Stardust there was a strange otherworldly quality to this post-modernist performer. Having failed to develop Orwell’s 1984 as a musical, some of the songs went on to appear on the critically-acclaimed Diamond Dogs album.
It’s not surprising that this constant character-switching led to several movie appearances. First and foremost, Nicolas Roeg chose the pop artist for the lead role of Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell To Earth. The tragic tale of a humanoid alien on Earth trying to bring water back to his dying home planet, this 1976 cult classic is a cosmic mystery, described by its director as “a shocking, mind-stretching experience in sight, in space and sex.”
With his bizarre costumes, ambiguous persona and those alarming mismatched eyes, Bowie was ideally cast as the enigmatic titular anti-hero. Some would say he was merely playing himself – the perfect physical embodiment of both the alien and alienated.
Desperate to evade his escalating drug problems, Bowie escaped to Berlin that same year. In collaboration with Iggy Pop and Brian Eno, during the late-’70s he released a stunning trilogy of albums: exuding darker, more experimental sounds. Culturally and creatively, Bowie was back, with added vigour, describing his German retreat as “a city where you could get lost, but find yourself too.”
Although Bowie cited the early-’80s as a low point, it brought Let’s Dance (in 1983) – a colossal commercial smash, heralding the MTV era, and a role ideal for the 1980s, with BIG hair and a daft name he starred as Jareth The Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986).
Despite his hiatus from public view this past decade, his music still resides within the SF genre; Moonage Daydream made it onto Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Tape in Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), while Starman (not Life On Mars, regrettably) found its way onto the soundtrack of last year’s The Martian.
“Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell me wife I love her very much she knows”
“[The e-mail] was as funny as always, and as surreal, looping through word games and allusions and all the usual stuff we did. It ended with this sentence: ‘Thank you for our good times, Brian. they will never rot’. I realise now he was saying goodbye” – Brian Eno.
“Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know?
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?”
As everyone from pop stars and politicians emerge with their own tributes today, it’s really not surprising to learn that he was so much and more to such a wide variety of people. So how did he manage to touch so many lives so profoundly, so deeply?
Not only did his appeal stretch across the generations, but through all his onstage (and onscreen) extraordinary personae he was, essentially, still an ordinary boy from Brixton, South London.
Thought it would be possible to keep on blogging without having to do another Obituary, but this is such a huge loss, something had to be written up. An Appreciation of the man and his music fittingly entitled: “Loving The Alien” has sat on my Dashboard since his birthday only last Friday. Little did anyone know that it would have to become this Tribute just a few days later.
As someone who looked and sounded as if he had fallen to Earth, it is ironic to consider that David Bowie was ideally suited to grasp what this world is about, and what it could do for us. So many people around the world have been grieving all day today because we’ve lost our guide – our thin, white icon.
Bowie paved the way for all of us to be heroes.
Even if it was just for one day.
David Robert Jones –David Bowie
8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016.