News broke yesterday that David Jones, known by many as Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, The Man Who Fell To Earth, A Lad Insane, An alligator, A Goblin King, or David Bowie had died merely two days after his latest and last album, ‘Blackstar’. There’s no way to put into words the way in which this man transformed himself and popular music so many times over the course of his lifetime. To a degree this man had been at the forefront of nearly every big musical step forward throughout the late 60s, 70s, 80s and throughout the part of history where sub-cultures and plurality became stronger with the invention of the internet. Bowie remained an iconic and relevant figure of music through all of it, always carving his own path right up until the end. If ‘Blackstar’ were to have been released by an underground experimental band today it would have created serious amounts of buzz in music-listening circles – as it stands it’s the last statement of a genius.
David Bowie was as much a fan and an observer of art as he was a participant in creating art, it wasn’t at all that shocking when Bowie announced that he was influenced by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips on his latest album. When he was younger he was forward thinking in everything; from the way he championed the internet for musical potential in the 90s when people thought it would merely be a tool for communication, to challenging MTV on why they don’t play black music in 1983 (as well as always supporting new artists when they’re getting their big break such as Nine Inch Nails and Arcade Fire), to his willingness to explore the oddities of our world and beyond. This is what gave him the continual relevance throughout his years, to the point where there was enormous excitement amongst both older and newer fans when he announced his comeback in early 2013.
I was only 17 years old at the time of Bowie’s comeback and was fairly new to his music as well as only just being old enough to start pushing my own boundaries in what I found enjoyable in music. What struck me about Bowie was despite how old some of his music was, it had aged better than most of his contemporaries’ music that at the time was also considered some of the greatest of the era. His dedication to baffling and confusing people is what’s made his music standout all these years later – that, and the fact that he is one of the most consistent music writers of all time. Unlike most icons who either die far too young and become icons, or become icons and then lose their ability to innovate later in life, Bowie was always there pushing – from Glam, to Post-Punk, to ‘Krautrock’ and even to the electronics of the 90s.
In terms of style and persona, Bowie always had the ability to turn heads while continually gaining respect. He didn’t use shock tactics for the sake of using shock tactics, he’d make his point. He’s part of the reason so many men wore make-up in music in the 80s and he’s part of the reason why so many of them also wore high heels. The ambiguity he gave off in regards to his sexuality and many other things in his hay-day was fantastic, because Bowie knew that he SHOULD make people discuss these things because he knew that none of it actually mattered, and he knew that in years to come civilisation would catch up with him and realise that. Hell, even before the fame (at 17 years old) he was the spokesman of a society called ‘Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men’. David always tried (and succeeded) to subvert people’s opinions of what they deem the norm, and was one of the first to challenge what people deem as masculine and if it really mattered – and that meant a lot to me as a young adult.
It was probably his willingness to explore, push boundaries and continually be subversive of societies’ norms in the most imaginative ways that made him such a mystical figure to me and lead me to have four posters of him on my wall at one time. Like many who first try to explore in the sea of music, a listener has to discover music’s past. When I was 17 I was very much beginning to dig through music’s – specifically Rock and Pop’s – great history; Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead ect. Yet none of them stuck with me like Bowie did.
What hit me when I was looking through social media platforms and at people’s reactions to Bowie’s death, is that his appeal has hit three generations of my family, all for slightly different reasons and that it very much feels like the loss of a long distance relative. The people David Bowie has inspired and will continue to inspire with his music and his persona over the course of many generations, will never end. This is a man who kept his toes in so many different blooming movements over the years that it’s impossible to see his influence ever fading. Rest in peace, David and thank you for making it okay to be an outsider and always facing the strange.