69 years of life, 50 years of which were dedicated to the music industry; these stats describe the one and only David Bowie.
The legendary artist passed away after an 18 month battle with cancer on January 10th, 2016, just days after celebrating his 69th birthday. Upon the news social media exploded with messages of surprise and grief, but soon turned into fond remembrance. Rather than focusing on the fatality, the influx of memories was not only refreshing but a true testament to the artist’s legacy.
Born January 8th as David Robert Jones, the Brixton Brit showed immediate interest in music but much of his early career was met with frustrations. His breakthrough album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”, was actually his fourth studio album and the result of a three-year experimentation period. The album introduced the world to his alter ego for the rock glam era of music, Ziggy Stardust. Although the flamboyant persona was short-lived it began the transformative nature associated with David Bowie. The next persona was that of Thin White Duke a “cocksure but coked-out mad aristrocrat” and not only was this a visual change but the artist shifted from an arena rock sound to that of chilled soul. With this persona David Bowie released his classic “Fame”. This was his first single that reached US top charts; in fact it did better in the United States than in his native UK. The song was co-written by John Lennon, one of Bowie’s inspirations, and spoke about the unglamorous side of fame.
From that conversation Bowie made the decision to cut off all management and rely on himself and individual positions offered to others. With the help of Lennon’s influence Bowie decided that management was too greedy and never aided an artist’s growth. This principle of observing and learning from others resonated in the artist’s music as well. Many of the visual changes Bowie underwent were influenced by characteristics he noticed among his fans. However living in his art took a toll on Bowie sending him into a drug haze among other legal controversies in the 70s. But through that time he claimed he had “approached the brink of drug-induced calamity one too many times, and it was essential to take some kind of positive action”, stating so in an interview with Tony Visconti as documented by Ultimate Classic Rock. The positive action was the release of his Berlin trilogy: “Low”, “ ‘Heroes’ ”, and “Lodger”. The edgy music stayed true to the avant garde nature of the chameleon’s music but was still impacting other genres and mainstream music, proven by composer Phillip Glass using Bowie’s music as the subject of symphonies in the 90s.
But the 80s was the real time David Bowie found his musical era as music videos began to be introduced to the public. 1983 was the year of the release of his most commercially successful album “Let’s Dance” paving the way with its sound and visual appeal for the young artists at the time and for the many generations to come. But it wasn’t just his music, his transformative nature took him to the cinematic world where his androgynous looks flourished under unique characters like the Goblin King in “Labyrinth” (1986). Pushing the envelope in music, looks, and sexuality David Bowie never lived by the norm. Always wanting to take the next step, to experiment, to truly find himself by pushing all boundaries, David Bowie taught generations to love their quirks, their oddities, and to never stop experimenting.
Bidding the world goodbye at 69 with his last studio album Blackstar and taking from his song “Lazarus”, lyrics that seem to encapsulate the visionary’s last words and message to all those he has inspired and touched:
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?