I found out David Bowie died at 10:52 pm last night. In a group message I received the following: “Guys David Bowie died.” It was a weird punch in the gut. Several people in the thread started making jokes, and usually I would join in on such antics immediately, but i couldn’t. I was oddly shattered, and I don’t really know why. I had actually purchased Bowie’s new album earlier in the day with the intention of reviewing Blackstar later this week. At the time I had no idea that the musician had been battling cancer and not even an inkling that he might be dead by the time I went to bed. But here we are.
I’m hardly a Rolling Stones journalist (sorry Cameron Crowe); I listen to podcasts more than I listed to music – and my music tastes are mostly relegated to either musical soundtracks (what’s up Hamilton?) or whatever my dad listened to when he was my age. The latter mostly includes the work of The Who and The Band and that sort, but for whatever reason David Bowie was never part of my 70’s rock education. So then where does my affinity for the man come from? I even feel kind of guilty for getting beat up about it – perhaps I was influenced by how late in the evening it was.
I imagine it has something to do with Bowie’s transcendence from standard human being into something greater. Something more. At some point in the 70’s, David Bowie stopped being a man and became a cosmic entity, permeating the universe. Obviously The Beatles are incredibly influential – as are plenty of other music acts from the same era – but I’m hard-pressed to think of another act who became a concept the way Bowie did.
His impact is everywhere. Flight of the Conchords’s “Bowie’s in Space.” This sequence in Mr. Deeds (before Adam Sandler lost all interest in everything). The cartoon The Venture Bros. The U.K. and U.S. version of Life on Mars. And then there’s his acting career. I mean, who else could possibly portray the Bowie-est scientist who ever lived – Nikola Tesla?
But I don’t want to downplay the man’s career as a musician. I may have come to his work late in life (Steven Cohen: The College Years), but I am well aware that The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is one of the best albums ever recorded – iconic and quotable (is “quotable” the word I want to use? I don’t know). Now take that with a grain of salt because my list of favorite albums also includes The Band’s Greatest Hits. That’s right – one of my favorite albums is a greatest hits CD. I’m a poseur. But no one can deny Bowie’s presence and power. He had so many incredible hits: “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” “Heroes,” “Modern Love,” “Golden Years.” And the collaborations? “Under Pressure” with Queen. “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger. And I’m really only familiar with one period of his career! Bowie released 111 singles over the course of a 50 year career, and he even managed to give the public one last gift before he passed.
Ultimately though, more than anything else, David Bowie was himself. A huge weirdo who changed peoples’ lives just by being his weirdo self. Maybe that’s the lasting imprint that he leaves behind. All those weird kids who listened to his music and grew up into weird adults will probably never be as successful or socially accepted as the man who inspired them, but hopefully his honest persona begat a “who gives a fuck?” approach. Maybe I haven’t connected with his ouevre enough to have that attitude myself, so in an attempt to rectify that miscarriage of popular culture justice, this week will be Bowie Week. We’ll get that review of Blackstar. I’m going to watch Labyrinth for the first time. I’ll also take suggestions on which pieces of Bowie-ania to take a look at over the next several days. Maybe I’ll learn more about why the man mattered so much – even to me, in a way that I can’t really articulate.
In the meantime though, David Bowie has definitely earned five out of five Starmen: