Bowie: Our Space Oddity
Remembering David Bowie
January 19, 2016 at 1:09 pm
It ain’t easy. My brain hurts a lot, but, I guess there’s always some change in the weather.
I knew this day would come in my lifetime, but I thought Time would make an exception for this Starman, this Spaceboy, this Blackstar.
Of course, the Prettiest Star travels from Station to Station periodically, and decided he was ready to shape the scheme of things once more.
In my days of grieving, I felt the need to share some of the highlights of his life and reflect on his otherworldly impact on art and culture.
A true original from the start, The Man Who Fell to Earth was reincarnated as a human male in London, England on January 8th, 1947, and given the Earth-friendly name David Robert Jones. He earned his iconic eyes (one permanently dilated pupil) from a schoolyard brawl, leaving him with an unusual look to suit his inevitable legendary status. Jones found himself an adolescent on a planet at the beginning of its obsession with the new pop-driven, teenage music genre of rock and roll. Playing sax and forming bands with his teenage friends, he studied the likes of Little Richard and Elvis Presley and their own jazz and blues influences to understand this human phenomenon. In 1966, David fashioned himself a new name inspired by the Texas frontiersman and knife: Bowie.
And everything was different from then on.
Bowie took his love of rock and roll and turned it into an art. His obsession with pop culture, literature, and cinema spurred a creative vision he spent the rest of his life realizing through his lyrics, musical experimentation, and characters both on stage and in film roles.
From the late 60s through the 70s, he would go on to compose classic glam rock albums from Space Oddity to Hunky Dory and later still, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs. He put lessons from his mime studies to work onstage and pushed the limits of gender expectations with fashion, makeup, and glitter. Bowie wrote multiple concept albums during this time, orchestrating the rise and then the abrupt death of Ziggy Stardust. Always ready to move on to the next five things, he would travel from his homeland to LA and New York, star as an alien character in the wildly bizarre film The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), and eventually find himself recording three albums in Germany while coked out of his mind: the Berlin Trilogy of Low, Heroes, and Lodger, each including a handful of pop hits in spite of decadent synthesized layers of experimentation.
Christ, and that was only the 70s. He continued the trajectory of pop experimentation by taking these synth influences and applying them to rock roots. The result? Hits you undoubtedly love like “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl”, and “Modern Love”. He spent a great deal of the 80s perfecting the soul in his voice and showing up onscreen in films like The Hunger (1983) and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). Bowie’s role as the sexiest being ever, Jareth the Goblin King, was a sexual awakening for an entire generation that grew up with Jim Henson’s 1986 magnum opus, Labyrinth. Magic dance, indeed!
So, just when you’d think he’d take it easy and probably do nothing for a few years (let’s just gloss over this period of time in Tin Machine, shall we?), he takes us Outside and experiments yet again with electronic sounds for much of the 90s, incorporating some hip-hop elements as well as industrial-influenced guitar textures. In what is probably one of the most entertaining music videos of the 20th century, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame chases Bowie to the sinister tune of their collaboration, “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Both sport regrettable goatees, but we can forgive them for that.
Bowie’s exploration of digital technology takes him right though his 2002 epic, Heathen (a personal favorite) and then the last album he toured for, Reality. He spent the majority of the aughts raising his daughter with wife Iman (yes, the supermodel) and took on a few more film roles and live performances, but there were no new albums on the horizon until a surprise announcement on his 67th birthday in 2013. His first record after nearly a decade of silence, The Next Day, was a triumph in its own right (featuring star-studded music videos with the likes of Gary Oldman and Tilda Swinton!).
Constantly evolving, David Bowie’s fantastic voyage through our dimension inspired countless artists, writers, movements, fashion statements, sci-fi stories, concept albums, films and comics, to name a few. Bowie was often happy to pay homage to his own influences (writing songs for Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, and singing covers from the Beatles to the Pixies) and to collaborate with a surprising variety of contemporaries (from Queen to Bing Crosby to Arcade Fire and the aforementioned NIN). He was never afraid of controversies sprouted from his acerbic wit and knack for satire. With both song lyrics and outrageously fabulous fashion as Ziggy Stardust, he embraced sexual liberation and defied gender norms. His exploration of gender identity likely helped many kids in the 70s (and on) who would have otherwise felt unease about whether they were a boy or a girl (“Hot Tramp! I love you so!” could be the cry of many seeking acceptance, queer or otherwise). Bowie also reveled in being a PR mastermind, honing his brand and media perception decades before any other pop star could be so self aware. It was like he was always ten steps ahead of the rest of us.
His life’s eclipse on human history will not soon be forgotten. Hell, I don’t know that I can think of an artist that quite touches his legacy. With a music career spanning about half a century, he was never afraid to try something bold or unheard-of. The Starman was revolutionary in oh so many ways to oh so many souls.
Between his multitude of personas, albums, film roles, and more, Bowie left the impression that he might have been immortal, like a god or a demigod. Or maybe more appropriately, that he was an Endless like those in The Sandman series (likely inspired by Bowie in at least a few ways): One that was there from before the beginning and will be here long after the end.
His human form, however, was ultimately mortal. Bowie’s body developed cancer sometime after the release of The Next Day. In order to protect his loved ones and his fans, Bowie kept his health a secret from the public and took to the studio one last time with fellow living legend and longtime friend and producer, Tony Visconti. Together, they produced his final goodbye in the form of the critical success, Blackstar.
(Author’s note: after reading multiple gut-wrenching write-ups, still haven’t brought myself to watch this one. Maybe I will, before this gets published. The song itself is brutal enough, no?)
Once he released the album on the 69th anniversary of his human birth, he allowed the Earthlings a brief, but fair 48 hours to indulge and enjoy his latest talents for the first time, one last time. Before the last hours of Sunday, January 10th, 2016, Bowie peacefully released his spirit back to the stars, likely stopping to see friends on Mars before continuing on to his next great adventure.
“It’s only forever. It’s not long at all.”
I keep returning to the thought that there are simultaneously too many things to say about David Bowie, yet never enough to capture how I feel about him and his legacy. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, and that the loss created a void within many of us. Still, I choose to believe that Bowie left us with these emotional spaces as an opportunity to create something new in his absence. After all, his life is ripe with inspiration for the next generation of artists and innovators.
With a week now behind us, I feel somewhat at peace knowing that Bowie’s up in the heavens now, smiling and waving and looking so fine, watching from on high. Though gone from this planet, his presence forever changed us for the better.
I believe we’re not alone, and the stars look very different today.
Some Words of Wisdom
“Don’t stay in a bad place where they don’t care how you are”
-Everyone says Hi
“Just turn on with me and you’re not alone. Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful”
-Rock N Roll Suicide
“And these children that you spit on as you try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through: Changes”
A few more Fun Facts:
In case you didn’t know, Bowie wrote the song “Space Oddity” before the US landed on the Moon, releasing it just five days prior to the Apollo 11 mission.
Not great at guitar, dear reader? Fret not! Like Ziggy, David Bowie played guitar, though, admittedly claims to make an “absolute ass” of himself on lead, according to a Rolling Stone interview (that I have had clipped out from a gym magazine since about 2003 and have pinned near my guitar amp to cheer my own attempts at playing lead).
By the way, Bowie was also woke AF when he called out MTV for not playing enough Black artists in the early 80s.
Bowie’s done a lot of weird cameos. Lest we forget his role in Spongebob Squarepants as the Lord Royal Highness of Atlantis. (or his apparent involvement with the aquatic cartoon’s Broadway counterpart?)
Apparently, Blackstar was Bowie’s first album to reach the No. 1 spot in the US. I find this tragic, but at least he finally got the recognition he has deserved for decades.
Fun personal fact: When my bestie and I exchanged X-mas presents in 2004, we both got one another the Bowie Reality Tour DVD. Twas a true Bowie-esque gift of the magi.
You May Also Like:
Literally anything. Bowie’s influence touched and inspired so much stuff. But here’s a little group of recommendations a little closer to his orbit anyhow.
Two distinct artists, Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Cherie Currie of The Runaways, that have already been immortalized themselves with biopics, both depicted as sharing an affinity for the album Aladdin Sane.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Hunger (film, though he narrated for season 2 of the television series)
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
The Prestige (Bowie as Tesla!!)
Bowie’s cultural impact (aka other films and TV with Bowie as a character or his music)
Velvet Goldmine (not about David Bowie specifically, but more about his life than any other film)
The Life Aquatic
The Venture Brothers
Life on Mars (BBC version)
Further Required Reading
David Bowie’s Most Groundbreaking Moments via Refinery29
Postscript: David Bowie, 1947-2016 via The New Yorker
Front pages of the day: David Bowie, 1947-2016 via The Pointer Institute
These were the top songs Tweeted for #DavidBowie yesterday via The Next Web
Bowie’s Walk-Off Grand Slam via Sports Illustrated
‘The Venture Bros.’ Creators Beautifully Eulogize David Bowie via Comic Book Resources
David Bowie Asks Iman If They Should Just Do Lasagna Again via The Onion