Of all the things to write about in the world of music, film, art and culture, this may be one of the hardest to do….David Bowie is gone. A mere three days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th studio album, Bowie’s family has confirmed that he died yesterday after an 18-month battle with cancer. The British performer…..artist….designer..
I’m sorry, what didn’t Bowie do in his lifetime? Pushed art rock into the mainstream? Done. Practically invented glam rock? You bet. Expanded the imagination of fashion? Yup. Touched and tasted various genres of music? Oh yeah. Influenced generations of future artists? Sure, one of them is writing this piece.
Bowie was something beyond being just a legendary musician, but a prime example of being true to one’s self. Bowie rarely did anything on the whim of someone else, no matter how strange or offbeat it appeared. When Bowie was at the peak of his powers around 1974 with the glammed-out freakiness as Ziggy Stardust, he decided to do white-guy R&B. When disco wrapped, he became The Thin White Duke and nearly lost his mind. When he got clean, he rounded out the 70s by diving further into experimental music. He then thrust himself into the 80s by testing out pop music, and making it look cooler than most of his peers. Even the in 90s, when his influence was felt in most musicians on the charts, he veered into electronic music and more experiments.
The 2000s and this recent decade had a smaller output of Bowie music, not that there needed to be. Bowie’s influence had come full circle by influencing nearly every genre of music. Lady Gaga, The Pixies, Janelle Monáe, The Flaming Lips, Sia, Kanye West, U2, Madonna, Florence + the Machine, Pharrell Williams and countless others. You can go on Twitter right now, type in #DavidBowie and scroll through the laundry list of artists that claim Bowie as his or her hero. Whether he was promoting a new album or hiding from the public eye, Bowie was omnipresent in pop culture. He was a looming shadow and beloved legend, like a story told by numerous campfires. Whispers of the Man Who Fell to Earth and his Spiders From Mars.
The last few years have seen Bowie enter another reawakening in his career. 2013’s The Next Day had Bowie dipping into the various genres of music he’s touched on over the years, showing his continuous talent that seemingly never faltered. This past Friday had Bowie releasing Blackstar, his freakiest and most challenging album in the last two decades. But put this into context: Bowie had reportedly been fighting cancer for 18 months and still put out a new album. Could he have known this was the end? With songs about Lazarus and refusing to lie down quietly, was Bowie giving the world one last hurrah?
It makes sense. Bowie’s extravagance and showmanship requires that bit of dramatic flair. What kind of performer leaves his stage without a dramatic exit? It wouldn’t be surprising if his coffin turned into a rocket that blasted him into space. David Bowie represented an idea that anyone could be more than just a man. Be whatever you want to be, and be someone else if you get bored with it. Bowie was a chameleon, but he was Bowie. He was proud to be weirdo and even prouder to be different from norm. He never bowed to any muse but his own and no matter how it was received, he wore it like a badge of honor. Bowie is a proud example of how to be an artist, and notice how I use “is” and not “was.” Because Bowie will never leave. He never has. He’ll always be far above the moon.