Realization of some bad news was slow this morning as I scanned through social media, seeing picture upon picture of David Bowie, all his personalities and alter-egos through the years on display, captioned with variations of #RIP. My ability to comprehend this information finally set in, followed by shock. And now, like many, I’m sad and confused. David Bowie, following a very private 18-month bout with cancer, has passed away. He’d turned 69 on Friday, January 8th, the same day he’d released Blackstar, his latest and final album. Producer Tony Visconti said the following:
"He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."
It’s hard to know where to begin.
David Bowie, to me, stood as an iconoclast to every convention, remarking on the absurdity of creative, musical and societal stagnation by simply being. And though his chameleonic approach to his work, which required the development of characters to his ever-evolving story, could be seen as poseur-ish adaptation by some, the lasting effects of his legacy are impossible to deny.
A couple years ago, the passing of Lou Reed prompted me to ask, "And, what would there be without Lou Reed?” Now I ask: What would Lou Reed have been without David Bowie? How about Iggy Pop? Between the two, would Transformer have existed as it is? Would The Idiot? He'd had a significant hand in informing how both albums would sound and how they would eventually be perceived. As it was, the fallacy of hippie utopia had crumbled under the weight of the movement’s own exhaustion and disillusionment, enabling the cynical record industry to bolster the standout acts of the late 60s into becoming untouchable reps of an abandoned ideal never realized, rock royalty paid to spew hits. Bowie, Reed, Pop… these guys challenged it all and mapped out a new course for music to travel. And while Bowie fits well into the 70s-era glam spectrum, this is the guy who produced Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power, an album meant to ruin ears. You can’t have punk rock without David Bowie, his contributions essential to its evolution and eventual genesis, just as you can’t have the theatrical androgyny he’d embodied, which seemed to permeate the airwaves in the 80s during MTV’s fledgling stretch as an innovative source for new music. And, speaking of MTV, Bowie was the guy who called the station out for selecting music videos from predominantly white artists. In as smart a fashion as possible, David Bowie was living critique of the world around him, dismissing the past in favor of a future he’d clearly embraced. The wisdom he espoused in “Changes” certainly spoke to this:
"And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through…”
Could any artist have appreciated youth culture more with words like these? This is a backhand to dismissive adults who allow themselves to be permanently left behind to wallow in their own self-important “good ol’ days” as they lecture their progeny without want of actual connection to the world they live in and fight through. These words give reason and purpose to growing generations and they’re as relevant now as they ever were.
Musically, Bowie did it all: rock, funk, disco, krautrock, industrial, and pop to name a few. Forgetting for a moment his impact as Ziggy Stardust, can we talk about Station To Station? Or Low? Both had impacted me immensely when I’d heard them, from low end propulsion to melodic electronics, the worlds both albums conceived were at once sci-fi realizations of “Art Decade(s)” foretelling of better things to be seen, heard and understood. That’s what I got out of them, anyway: I got a sense of something bigger and better, blissful and energized.
And that’s what we’ve lost today. So, we should celebrate. Pull the records and drop your needles. Let’s dance.
Letters From A Tapehead
P.S. — For those of us in the Philadelphia area, 88.5 WXPN is airing nothing but the music of David Bowie as a tribute to the man and his work.
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