On Sunday, 10th January 2016 a great musical chameleon we have come to known as David Bowie passed away after struggling with cancer for 18 long months. The next morning I checked my Twitter as I do every morning to catch the latest news. Immediately after reading a series of tweets tagged with #RIPBowie I felt overwhelmed. Both Twitter and quite truthfully speaking the whole Internet had broken out in panic and anger — fearing, or rather hoping, for the unfortunate news to turn as a hoax. Bowie had been a target of numerous hoaxes before and justifiably there were a number of people who refused to believe what they had just heard.
This was no foul play, oh not this time, dear. David Bowie was certainly dead as his verified Facebook page stated.
After three days I am still very much overwhelmed while writing this. The legacy of David Bowie is simply something too massive to write about in a simple blog post although I respect those who have taken their time to write several beautiful words out of it.
Due to Bowie’s several on-stage personas ranging from an enigmatic and androgynous rock star to a cold cocaine sniffing soul swinger, I saw him more as an actor than as a regular singer-songwriter. Bowie was not a man as much as he was a living phenomenon or a cultural movement.
Naturally, behind all the quirky characters there was an ordinary human being like we all are. I believe it must have been an increasingly growing burden for him to live with his past image which can be partly heard on his later albums. On Sunday the man, the phenomenon and much else were taken away from us.
My proper introduction to Bowie came via Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars movie in the mid-00s, which means I have only listened to him for a decade or so. The great thing between us music lovers is that those who started listening to him in the early 70s have not and probably never will decry my late entry to the scene. Another great thing on the age of the Internet and streaming services is that my quest to learn the magic of Bowie’s catalog has been a relatively inexpensive effort.
During these ten years I have voraciously explored and engulfed Bowie’s records and ultimately formed a loving bond in almost all of them. Never mind the self-titled first album and a couple of sketchy 80s snafus (Tonight and Never Let Me Down). As many of you agree, the strength of David Bowie was not to linger on with the same tone for too long. Whereas 70s Bowie is nearly all killer and no filler, the experimental Bowie from the 90s is the hardest one to embrace.
If I were to name my favourite era of Bowie’s production it would definitely be the fabled Berlin Trilogy. While the Diamond Dogs might be the album that completely satisfies me musically, nothing will overthrow the memories built up while listening to Low and Heroes on those dark, dreary winter nights.
If you are unsure where to start with Bowie, I can only recommend this excellent Platinum Collection and especially the first two CDs from it.
The fragile mortality of our beloved idols reminds us painfully every so often. Late last year they took away the Motörhead frontman and only permanent member, Lemmy Kilmister. Few years earlier in 2013 another irreplaceable pop figure, Lou Reed, left this realm to play on higher stages.
The sacred trinity of pop music: Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Only the latter one is still standing and there’s no branch of science in the world that can explain us that.
However, for Bowie the death was different. He had not been performing live since 2006 charity event which made his current persona even more mysterious and remote. Instead of intense touring and playing the same hits repeatedly night after night he produced a very well crafted record called Blackstar which was released on his birthday, January 8th. You can disagree with me here but Blackstar was made with death visibly on sight and clearly in mind. You can sense it from the lyrics of the album’s titular track.
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
Of course, death and other permanent themes were never a strange ground for Bowie, but with Blackstar he dropped us the final letter. Here lies a man who fell to earth only to rise again like the Lazarus.
If you think of it, both Lemmy and Bowie left respecting their style and career. Lemmy performing sonic attacks with his Rickenbacker on stage and Bowie staying off-stage dwelling on the musical exquisite. For an artist this is the only correct way to go — to keep on creating what you are known for.
Bowie might not need us anymore but we need him. Or actually, his music. As a person who has fully come to terms with the natural aspect of death I am so glad that Bowie’s music is still there rocking out loud from our speakers and headphones. From LPs, CDs, documentaries, films and video games.
Have a safe journey, Ziggy. Rest in peace, Thin White Duke. Farewell, David.
Cover image by Hisshi under Creative Commons license.