It seems I can’t go anywhere these past few days without running into someone that mentions the passing of David Bowie. I myself am a fan of David Bowie, but I had a friend ask me what was so important about David Bowie. She hadn’t seen this kind of mourning over the death of a musician since Michael Jackson’s death, and she felt like she was left out. Why should David Bowie matter to her? I thought about how to answer her and found myself trying to encapsulate the whole of David Bowie into a sentence; I soon found that to be impossible. Michael Jackson had a phrase, “The King of Pop”, but there’s no descriptor for David Bowie other than “David Bowie”.
Musically, his body of work is massive on such a level that it’s almost impossible to be consumed easily. He began recording in 1967 and released an album at least every three years until 2003, when a heart attack prompted him to take a break from recording until coming back in 2013, and releasing one more album two days before his death. Just buying a Greatest Hits album, of which there are many, can seem difficult. David Bowie shifted musical styles relentlessly and his compilation albums reflect this. Nearly everyone has a favorite Bowie song but are turned off by others. I have every David Bowie album and when I looked up how many of his songs I have, it turned out to be 430. That is a gigantic catalogue of music.
His image was tightly associated with his music, each album and single having a specific look or level of theatricality to them. Whether it was his Ziggy Stardust look of the early seventies, his eighties chic, or the uncannily cool nineties, each generation has an association with the look of his music. However, when looking back, he doesn’t need the artifice to make the music matter. One of his finest live albums, again of which there are many, is A Reality Tour, recorded during his 2004 tour during which he suffered his heart attack, has him playing songs from that Ziggy Stardust period, and although 20+ years had passed, he still sang with the verve and vigor that was preserved in that early-seventies recording. The song remained the same although the imagery did not.
When the public went to see him, they dressed up in their wildest costumes much like Lady Gaga’s fans do today. He rose to popularity as the late-sixties’ “Free Love” generation was growing skeptical amidst the deaths of their icons like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. He was rose-colored, opulent and hard-rocking. He was a fantasy drenched in the kind of space-minded youth of that era. Then, just months later, he was on Soul Train singing Golden Years to a black audience in a pressed suit. Then, just shortly after that he was in bright orange on the cover of Low espousing the wonders of Eastern Europe.
According to the information presented by his publicist, David Bowie was aware of his impending death 18 months ago, and instead of sharing that with the world to gain sympathy or ramp up the hype of his work, he quietly released Blackstar, his final album. The reviews were unanimous, it was hailed as his greatest work since Low was released back in 1977. The public were eating up his return, and suddenly, he was dead. There was no time to adjust, no time to prepare ourselves. He was just gone immediately after delivering to us one of his most cryptic and elegant records.
David Bowie is a Genesis for all music professionals, musically, thematically, visually, and artistically. Why does he matter to today’s generation? Because he created the cult fandom that exists today. He originated the theatricality of a rock show. He stripped rock and roll of its misogyny, but gave it its sense of wonder. He also gave credibility to the idea that musical experimentation and genre-hopping does not mean an end to an artist’s career or that he or she is necessarily finished.
Even in his death, he’s not finished. Just watch the video for his latest/last single, Lazarus. He released it two days before he died as a message for all of us.
Post by Justin Bowman