David Jones. Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke. An artist in the truest sense of the word, a man who revolutionised and transcended genre, pre-empted fashion and redefined popular music itself. He was the quintessential south London boy whose immense talent pulled him away and above his contemporaries, adapting to the changing times with ease. At a time when music was already straining at its own seams and others were struggling to keep up, he followed and triumphed each and every time. There will be much written this week regarding David Bowie and what a loss his is, so I will spare you too much of a eulogy and instead do my best to say a few simple words on the man himself.
How one man could write so much wonderful music, lyrics which touch so many people and in such a way that the loss is felt so deeply and so personally; is immense. It’s astounding that one man could be revolutionary yet relevant, affecting his audience with such emotionality that to simply listen was to be there with him. Everybody knows David Bowie, from those perennial classics like Life on Mars, Changes and Space Oddity (it seems such a shame to namecheck just those three!) the tracks which even your mum loved back in the day, to the perfect rawness of his addled work with Iggy Pop or Lou Reed. Everything he did was far ahead of its time, to such an extent that some of his best work was missed by audiences who just didn’t know how to take it.
I’ve previously written about media representation of musical icons, and have always been fascinated by the tributes and adulation that often follow in the wake of a rock-stars death. When an artist lives into older age and fades a little they often become somewhat of a joke figure in the media (Elton John, Paul McCartney and Axl Rose are excellent examples) while those who burn out (John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse to name a few) are put on a pedestal, flaws and mistakes often ignored. Tragedy sells, and the rise and fall of a celebrity makes for an intriguing media narrative. Forgive me for digressing, but this is something which never affected David Bowie. Throughout his life he was beloved, in the media and in public opinion. Throughout my lifetime alone has always been revered and respected as a national treasure. A man with an actually private life who never came across as arrogant or false; who let the music do the talking, elegantly bidding farewell with his final album released just a few days ago.
I’m a touch loathe to speak of gender and sexuality, as there are many who will do a much better job, but it must be mentioned that Bowie was always the very representation of modernity and civilised values. Openly bisexual in an era when prejudice and hatred were the norm, engaging in transvestism when understanding was a world away. David Bowie did much for such causes, and though there is still a long way to go it’s difficult to imagine such enlightened times without his influence.
To put it simply, Bowie is a legend. A light of his musical generation, whose impact on the modern world cannot be understated. Like his bulge in Labyrinth you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. Though various quotes had long ago passed into myth, my favourite anecdote has to be that the line “For here, am I sitting in a tin can. Far above the world” was written whilst sitting on the number 94 Bus going through Lewisham one evening. Myth or truth, it displays insight into a beautiful mind which saw the world differently. It was his ability to share this view world that made him resonate and connect so perfectly. David Bowie was a cultural constant and a genuine phenomenon in a career spanning almost half a decade. He will be missed.