News that David Bowie, the musician, fashion iconic and eccentric innovator, passed away today, after an 18-month battle with cancer, has shocked the world.
As I write, tributes continue to be posted by millions on social media, and if all the Bowie obituaries and editorials that have appeared in the last 12 hours were printed out and pasted together there could well be enough paper to cast a tether into space to rescue Major Tom.
When I heard the news this morning, Bowie’s name unmistakable as it was spoken by Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny, I too was shocked. Shocked because it didn’t – and still doesn’t – seem right that Bowie the Starman, Bowie the innovator, Bowie the now-elusive icon, who no longer performs live, but is still releasing new music to intrigue and delight listeners, is dead.
Bowie was obsessed with his art: he wrote and performed music, he assumed numerous stage names, he donned flamboyant outfits, and time after time he broke free of social norms to challenge our ideas about expression, relationships and identity. He was a visionary creative, a man of singular talent with a passion for embracing the new, whether that meant testing himself musical or partnering with film-makers, fashion designers, and even web developers, to bring his ideas to life.
Though I’m sure my younger self heard Bowie’s music playing at some point, my first proper instance of knowing who the singer was, and putting a face to the name, was watching his appearance as the spiky-haired antagonist, Jareth, in the 1986 fantasy film, Labyrinth. When my younger self wasn’t cowering behind the living room door, hiding from Jareth and his minions, this immediately marked Bowie out as figure of fun in my mind: a singer and actor who was up for participating in bonkers ideas with the enthusiasm to make them believable, and even cool.
It wasn’t until the 2006 British television series, Life on Mars, titled after Bowie’s song of the same name, that I found myself drawn to him as a musician. Bowie’s music was used sparingly, but extremely effectively, in this cop show-cum-time travel drama about 21st century-copper, Sam Tyler, landing in the 1970s and having to come to terms with the “primitive” policing of the day while he searches for a way to get back to the present. A fixation with tracks such as ‘Jean Genie’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and other hits followed for me later. But, shamefully, I never managed to get round to buying/listening to his entire studio back catalogue – something I intend to fix.
Now, at the time of his death, I’m consumed by a feeling of wishing I had known more of Bowie’s music and creations during his life.
His spirit, dress sense and music has influenced millions of people, including some of my most beloved musicians: Janelle Monáe, Damon Albarn, Paul McCartney, Little Dragon, Jarvis Cocker, and Nile Rodgers, who produced Bowie’s most commercially successful album, 1983’s Let’s Dance.
Bowie was a pioneer in so many fields. But most of all he was a prolific creative who let his art do the talking. Blackstar, Bowie’s final album before his death, was released only last Friday (January 8) and has already received a warm critical reception. Following his death, it has been interpreted as Bowie’s musical farewell to the world.
I adore Bowie, but the last word deserves to come from a true Bowie fan. Gigwise editor, Andrew Trendell, wrote a sublime tribute about why the Starman’s spirit, and all he has brought into our world, will last forever.
Image: Flickr-CC/Maureen Barlin