We at MVD are huge David Bowie fans so naturally we were shocked and saddened to hear about his passing from cancer at the age of 69 this morning, coming as it does just days after his birthday and the release of his most acclaimed album in years. We pay tribute to one of pop music’s true innovators, and a legend without peer.
Well there you go, even in his death David Bowie has managed to confound expectations, much like he did throughout the course of his utterly unique life. No-one saw that coming. We had heard intermittent rumours of ill-health, but in recent years this reclusive star had managed to avoid the limelight in a way that was impressive even for him. Still, waking up to this news was a bolt out of the bluest blue. Where to begin…
As a child of the 70’s and 80’s I grew up with Bowie. Being slightly too young to have caught him in his glam-period early 70’s pomp my first vivid memories are hearing and seeing the single ‘Ashes To Ashes’ on TV, probably Top Of The Pops. Even to my young ears he sounded otherworldly, the lopsided pop-funk groove of that song and it’s opaque lyrics which referenced his ‘Space Oddity’ character (that being one of the few other Bowie songs I was familiar with at the time) coming at me from a very different place than anything else occupying the charts. Through the rest of the 80’s he became familiar through ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Absolute Beginners’ and ‘Modern Love’, pop gems from what would come to be seen as his last great period (a view which many will probably challenge in the coming weeks and months). Then of course there was Labrynth, a film role which brought him to the attention of a very different audience.
But for me my love affair with his work really began when I heard Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. I was about 18 or 19, playing drums in a band, and utterly obsessed with music. Hearing that album for the first of many, many times was almost like entering a new musical world. Indeed, as I began exploring his back catalogue I realised that he was one of those artists who is almost a genre within himself, so singular were his musical visions. Each album was different, and each one presented a new facet of this enigmatic character. There was Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, the Berlin-period Bowie, and many shades inbetween. During the 90’s and beyond I would frequently hear and see musicians and bands who it seemed had borrowed either a little or a lot from him, whether it was Madonna’s constant stylistic shifts, the echoes of his early 70’s work coming through in various Britpop acts, or his more experimental stuff showing it’s obvious influence on acts as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Leftfield, and The Fall. Look at Lady Gaga, for example. She would surely be the first to admit that what she does was pretty much invented by Bowie.
And that’s the mark of a great artist. Not only did Bowie exemplify the musical genres he worked in, he elevated them to new levels. Most musical artists follow, but a few, Bob Dylan and The Beatles amongst them, lead. They show everyone else coming behind them what’s possible, what can be done, where you can go if you dare. Bowie shone light in to corners of pop music no-one had dreamed could exist. He was more than just a singer and songwriter, he was a true artist; fearless, visionary, intrepid, always looking for the next thing, never happy to sit back and revel in the past. Nowhere is this attitude more evident than in his last album Blackstar, released just last week. It’s a searching, experimental, decidedly un-radio friendly album which sounds like nothing else he has ever done. At a time in his life when he could have sat back and cashed in on his considerable catalogue of hits he was still pushing forward, still on the way to somewhere that no-one else but him could have gone to. It’s hard to think of anyone else from his generation doing the same.
So there you go, we’ve lost one of the most important figures in music from the last 100 years. His legacy will continue to cast a broad shadow over not just music, but art, fashion, film, and culture everywhere. If you’re already familiar with his ouvre then I’m sure you will be playing him loud and proud today, and if you’re not then do yourself a favour and go explore a body of work that is endlessly rich in variety and invention.
R.I.P. Starman, the difference you made to our world will never be forgotten.