Some may only know him as Major Tom’s alter ego. But when an artist as vital and original as David Bowie dies, a little bit of all of us died with him. Referring to Bowie as an aging rock star is an understatement akin to referring to Albert Einstein as a math wiz or Steve Jobs as a guy who built computers. Bowie extended the boundaries of music and theater, as well as how we all perceive ourselves. His body of work over his 40+ year career shows an artist who was constantly exploring and evolving — and his body of work will likely prove to be even more formidable decades, if not centuries, from now.
Just two days before his reported death, David Bowie released the genre-bending album Blackstar which fused numerous styles of music. Although not immediately obvious, Blackstar turned out to be his final contemplations on mortality and a parting gift to his fans. “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen, everybody knows me now,” the lyrics from the album’s first single Lazarus, intones: “This way or no way you know, I’ll be free just like that bluebird now ain’t that just like me.” In light of today’s announcement, the album will be viewed in a different light was will still earn the respect and acclaim it did just days before.
Just two years earlier, he shared The Next Day with the world. It was proclaimed by critics to be his best in 30 years. 1983 was the year that Bowie released Let’s Dance. It was a good album containing at least five hit songs (out of a total of 8 songs) including Modern Love, China Girl, Let’s Dance and Cat People. But it was far from his best. One little appreciated fact about Bowie is that in one five year period, he released Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and his Berlin Trilogy (Station to Station, Low, Heroes). Each of these albums were remarkable — the totality of them was just short of amazing. They boasted great riffs, original sounds, fascinating lyrics and groundbreaking personalities. Yes, his early songs, Life on Mars, Changes and Space Oddity, got most of the radio play Yet many of his greatest songs, like Heroes, Ashes to Ashes, Diamond Dogs, Sound and Vision, Fame, Let’s Dance and All The Young Dudes, were indelible signposts in the evolution of pop music. Since 1983, Bowie has released 10 albums, including The Next Day and Blackstar.
For a taste of Bowie’s remarkable songwriting and singing talent, consider Under Pressure. This Queen song was co-written by Bowie and it deals the aspiration for a love and brotherhood that transcends the civility that we currently accept: As Bowie sung: “Because love’s such an old-fashioned word, and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves. This is our last dance. This is ourselves, under pressure.” Just one listen to the vocal tracks from this song affords a glimpse into his undeniable brilliance and capacity to appeal to higher love:
And to watch him perform this song…….accompanied by Annie Lennox, watch below. WARNING: You will fall in love with Annie Lennox!
Beyond just his music, Bowie pioneered technology (he created his own Internet service in 1998 and one of the early videogames with integrated music in 2000), compensation for artists (he sold his creative catalogue as a collateralized bond, dubbed “The Bowie Bond”), curator (he designed an acclaimed museum exhibit featuring his work), co-created theatrical works (including, the recent Lazarus as well as performing the very challenging role of John Merrick in Elephant Man on Broadway) and movies (consider the cult-hits Labyrinthe or The Man Who Fell To Earth). He was also a respected art collector and a voracious reader of classic books. In coming years, some of his artwork and other creative output will likely be released. Upon his death, just about every musical artist spoke of his influence and trailblazing.
The mature melodic Bowie is on full display in ‘The Next Day’, an unusually expansive album boasting 14 songs. Some border on great (Where Are We Now, The Stars, Valentine’s Day, I’d Rather Be High), some are excellently crafted pop songs (Love is Lost, Dancing Out in Space, How Does the Grass Grow, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die). It’s an album that begs to be listened to repeatedly — much like his best albums of the past. One of the best tracks is a bonus track — I’ll Take You There. In our view, it was the best album of 2013. While Blackstar may not be his most accessible album, it matters not. It was the last gift from a truly gifted artist who left us far too early. Fortunately, his work will continue giving us insights into ourselves, what we can be and how we can express ourselves freely. We were all hugely honored to have been the beneficiaries of his searching. Keep firmly in mind that the world is 4.543 billion years old and we somehow all managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie. How fortunate are we!