Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie (1947-2016)

One of the earliest memories I have is like anyone who was born or grew up during the 80s was watching MTV. Among the early music I probably can remember listening to were the likes of Michael Jackson, Men at Work, Huey Lewis & the News, and Pat Benatar. Then there was this bloke with blond hair singing in a restaurant in Australia that had this song which was different from what was out at the time. It had this funky bass groove but also something was simple, direct, and you can dance to it. I was two years old when Let’s Dance was the big song on the radio and on MTV as I remember my parents owning that cassette as my mother was pregnant at the time carrying my sister who would arrive that September. I think my favorite song at the time was the title track to the album while my mom’s favorite song and still her all-time favorite song is China Girl.

It’s amazing that I could remember that which goes to show why David Bowie means so much to me but also to the entire world. While I probably grew up throughout my childhood and into my teens being surrounded by other things where I probably forgot about Bowie for a while. It wasn’t until the time when bands like Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails were around where they would acknowledge Bowie’s importance to them. Nirvana’s cover of The Man Who Sold the World was the first in a series of events that I feel brought Bowie back to the public eye and make him aware to a new generation of fans. Yet, I think there were many who were listening to grunge and alternative rock that were reluctant to listen to Bowie as they thought of him as that lounge lizard from the 1980s.

That changed when I was on vacation in New York City at the summer of 1995 when I was 14 with my parents and sisters visiting my mom’s favorite cousin where I read the news that my favorite band at the time in NIN were going to go on tour with David Bowie. It struck me as odd knowing that my memory of Bowie was from Let’s Dance but then I heard some of these others songs like Space Oddity, Fame, “Heroes”, and Ziggy Stardust and realize this is the same guy. That made me want to go see Bowie and NIN but other events forced me to miss it. This is why for anyone who is into a band or an artist of a current generation, it gives those the chance to look for something else. It’s among the reasons why I’m grateful for Trent Reznor and NIN for providing gaps between albums which gives me the chance to find other things.

Compilations are a good thing when it comes to certain artists who have a catalog that is quite vast as I bought the Changesbowie compilation when I was in high school. By the time I was a junior/senior in 1998 when two new compilations of Bowie’s work that featured not just his hits from 1969 to 1979 but also rarities and some album cuts. It was also around the time Velvet Goldmine was coming out as I wanted to see that film. A year later, a series of reissues of his albums from 1969 to 1987 came out as I wanted to see where to start thanks in part to the Internet which was new at the time. By the end of the 20th Century, I became a full-on fan of David Bowie as one of my favorite purchases I have is the Bowie at the Beeb three-disc limited edition compilation which featured an abundance of material Bowie did for the BBC from 1968 to 1972 with the third disc as his concert from June of 2000 for the BBC where he played songs from the 80s and beyond.

Through the Internet, I would go into his entire body of work as it became clear that this was a man of great importance. While bands like Radiohead and NIN are among my all-time favorite acts, Bowie is probably right behind those two though maybe he’s better than both of them considering the wealth of music he created. Like NIN and Radiohead, Bowie made music that didn’t play by anyone’s rules nor did they cater to trends with the exception of some of the stuff he did in the 1980s which were, even by his own admission, terrible. At the same time, they were artists that spoke to me in my teens and through my early stages of adulthood. Yet, Bowie was the master as songs like Rock N’ Roll Suicide and Quicksand had lyrics that were very powerful and direct. He spoke about alienation, anxiety, and fear yet made it so relatable that it probably saved my life.

I’m saddened that I never got to see him live but the shows he did present on video/DVDs showcased that everything else everyone did. He did it better and he did it with more heart and more passion no matter how silly it was back then or how strange it was. He was someone that was ahead of his time and laid the ground works for practically everything and everyone. People would probably say the same things about Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, or Michael Jackson in how they influenced their life or pop culture in general. For me, it was Bowie. He was someone that constantly reinvented himself and kept people guessing through his music and art. A few years ago, I made a list of his essential work from 1969 to 1980 which I think is his golden period though I would expand it to 1983’s Let’s Dance as that golden period.

If anything, his second self-titled release to Let’s Dance is quintessential Bowie and there is rarely a bad moment in those albums along with the live albums in those times like David Live from 1974 and Stage from 1978 in their respective expanded editions. There’s some gems he did in the 1980s and his work with Tin Machine while I think 90s albums like Black Tie White Noise and Outside are among his most underrated albums of his career. Heathen would be the return of classic-era Bowie with Reality being a fantastic follow-up. Then he disappeared where I was content knowing that even if he didn’t put out new music. He made more than enough to create music that would last for eons and then in 2013, he returned with The Next Day with little warning and it was a fucking classic from start to finish. It was as if he would return to do shows and such but I figured that it would take awhile but alas, that would never happen. Then there’s his final album Blackstar which if anything is a great testament to a great career. It’s a phenomenal record that stands with the rest of his work and a way to go out.

It’s not just through music that Bowie made an impact but also in art and film. As an actor, he had everything many would want while he didn’t go for the starring roles but rather play parts that suited him. Whether it’s Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth, Major Jack Celliers in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, John Blaylock in The Hunger, Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, bringing Andy Warhol back to life in Basquiat, Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners, or Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth. Bowie always brought something to a film and made it something special that many film buffs will enjoy.

Another thing that I think made Bowie exceptional was his generosity to other talents. While many artists would try to do whatever they can to boost their own egos or whatever, Bowie used his fame to give friends and unknowns their breaks. If it wasn’t for Bowie, I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t have heard of such artists/acts like the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, or T-Rex. They did something for him as an artist and he returned the favor where he gave Lou Reed his biggest hit with Walk on the Wild Side while Iggy Pop would become a major solo star. If it wasn’t for Bowie, I’m sure ambient music wouldn’t become prominent as he definitely raised attention for that genre and one of its creators in Brian Eno. He was also there to help those who were in need like his childhood friend Peter Frampton where he had him play guitar for the Glass Spider tour of 1987 and exposed his work as a guitarist.

I’m sure that if Bowie was never around, Luther Vandross would’ve never gotten a break or something as Bowie saw this young man and had him sing back up on the Young Americans album as well as co-write a song with him and did vocal arrangements. It shows how broad his music was and how important he was to popular culture. For those who probably grew up watching Soul Train in the 1970s were probably taken aback by this skinny British white guy with orange hair on the show until they heard him sing as it was clear that he had soul. He can rock, he can do dance, he can do electronic music, he can be loud, and he can also chill. What more could anyone ask from an artist like that?

Through the people he’s helped out and the people he’s given breaks to, it is clear that Bowie’s influence has created many that would come into his wake. There are covers by many artists who had paid tribute to him. Some in a very direct way like Bauhaus and Nirvana through some weird yet funny tributes by Flight of the Conchords in a song called Bowie’s in Space. One of my favorite tributes came from this guy named Steve Riks who would play many legends as he did one of the most bizarre yet funny tributes to both Bowie and Elvis Presley who were both born on January 8 (which I hope to be the day when I get married if that ever happens).

It goes to show that Bowie has made people smile and bring joy to the world. Even as fans would create some of these bizarre video compilations like Bowie getting annoyed during interviews.

Then there’s Chris Hadfield’s cover of Space Oddity in outer space, that is a cover done with great justice. It’s also quite moving.

For someone who dressed up like an alien, a coked-out European, a clown, and wears women’s clothing. It is clear that he’s managed to do so many things for so many people including children who recently did a little tribute to the man known as Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack, the Thin White Duke, Major Tom, and Jareth.

While it is sad that he’s gone now. It is clear that he has meant so much to the world and probably made them feel OK to be weird and challenging. Especially as he also created anthems through his music and art which will endure. Right now, Bowie is probably somewhere in the galaxy reforming the Spiders of Mars with Mick Ronson and Trevor Bolder while waiting for Mick Woodmansey to join them soon as that was his best band. To the collaborators such as Carlos Alomar, Brian Eno, Mick Woodmansey, Tony Visconti, Trent Reznor, Nile Rodgers, Ken Scott, Earl Slick, Mark Plati, Mike Garson, David Sanborn, Edral Kiziclay, Reeves Gabrels, George Murray, Dennis Davis, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Giorgio Moroder, Sterling Campbell, Gail Ann Dorsey, Gerry Leonard, Peter Frampton, and Iggy Pop. Thank you for being part of his musical family along with the men who aren’t with us such as Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Marc Bolan, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Lou Reed for making his music mean something.

To the people who were involved in his career like his first wife Angela and his longtime personal assistant Coco Schwab, thank you for being there for him and giving him the confidence. Finally to Iman, Duncan, Zulekha, and Alexandra, thank you for taking care of David Robert Jones and being the family that loved him. To David, thank you for being there for all of us and we will miss you.

R.I.P. David Bowie (1947-2016)

© thevoid99 2016


Brittani Burnham said...

Great tribute. There certainly won't be another artist like Bowie. He was one of a kind.

ruth said...

Wonderful tribute Steven. I was shocked to hear about his death, I didn't know he had cancer. What a true artist, Bowie was a musical genius who also had acting chops. The world lost a legend indeed. RIP Mr Bowie.