On Monday morning I awoke to the sad news of David Bowie’s passing. One of my friends summed it up appropriately on her Facebook page by saying she thought he would go on forever. I think perhaps we all did. Unfortunately it was true, Bowie passed away on Sunday evening after an 18 month battle with cancer. He had turned 69 just three days before. Since then countless tributes have been flowing in for the singer and pop icon.
“The stars look very different today” Space Oddity
David Robert Jones was born in Brixton on January 8th 1947 to a working class family. His desire to create was evident from an early age. He was a born artist. He had very distinct features, made even more so due to a fight he had at school. He got into a tussle with a mate over a girl and his friend punched him in the face. As a result one of Bowie’s eyes was permanently dilated. School friend George Underwood who remained close to Bowie, said that David later thanked him for giving him that interplanetary look that audiences were so attracted too. He later changed his name to David Bowie so as not to be confused with Monkees frontman Davy Jones.
Bowie went on to reach global fame and inhabited a wide range of ambiguous characters including his most famous Ziggy Stardust. This androgynous, bisexual character enthralled fans and secured his place in rock and roll history. He was constantly reinventing himself and he never feared pushing the boundaries of gender and sexuality. Bowie often used make-up and clothes as a way of expressing himself. He embraced difference instead of shying away from it. He became a style icon as well as a pop star. He was very subversive and rebellious. He wanted to shock the mainstream to make them sit up and pay attention. Looking back at some of his performances changes the perspective on so-called shocking performances of my own generation. They look relatively tame by comparison.
“We can be Heroes, just for one day” Heroes
Bowie’s many looks became as synonymous with him as his music. He did however have the talent to back up his flamboyant personality and showmanship. He was a great song writer, singer, actor and producer. He collaborated with many famous stars including Iggy Pop and Queen. His partnership with Queen resulted in one of their most famous and best-loved hits “Under Pressure”. Bowie also gave us such classics as Starman, Heroes, Changes, Life on Mars, Lets Dance, Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes which was one of the most expensive music videos of its time. Bowie was a very prolific musician. Over all he made an impressive 27 studio albums. Most of these were made during the 1970’s at the height of his fame.
“This is our last dance/This is ourselves” Under Pressure
His last album, Blackstar was released just days before he died on his 69th Birthday. If we listen to the tracks on this album now it is clear that Bowie was very aware that he had little time left. Even though he was dying he still wanted to create and make art for his fans to enjoy. Music wasn’t his only love he also enjoyed art and technology. He had a keen interest in the internet from early on and often used it to encourage and promote new, young artists. Unlike many others Bowie welcomed change, he did not fear it.
“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.” Lazarus
Bowie is often compared to a chameleon, I too would have probably used this image to describe him but when this was put to Bowie himself he said that a chameleon changes his skin to fit into his environment. He believed that he had done the exact opposite. So I suppose what he really did was change himself to better fit his own skin. As he grew and evolved he was not afraid to adopt his image accordingly. I think we can all agree that it’s much harder to feel good in our own skin than it is to fit into our surroundings. Bowie seemed to do this with ease and confidence. The New Yorker Journalist Hilton Als said it best, Bowie was an “outsider who made different kids feel like dancing in that difference”. Sadly the Starman has returned to the sky and has left it up to us not to blow it. I can’t help feeling sad when I think of a world without him in it. It will certainly have less colour that’s for sure. Lets hope he left just a little bit of his originality behind for the rest of us.