The first time I saw David Bowie, he was staring back at me from the record cover of ‘Hunky Dory.’ Someone had left the record on an upright piano in a hall while I was away at summer camp, and before I first heard ‘Changes’ and ‘Life on Mars?,’ I was perplexed by this strange man who looked like a woman. It would have been very early in my childhood, but it was to have a lasting influence in my thinking about music.
Billy Bragg, a voice of reason in all the noise, said it is “… not only the timing of his death and that fact that he was 69 that links Alan Rickman to David Bowie … both were working class kids from council estates who went to art school where they gained enough confidence in their own creativity that they were able to go on to find fame and fortune … The social mobility that Rickman and Bowie experienced is increasingly stifled.”
That would truly be a shame, because the world needs more people like David Bowie and Alan Rickman.
Starman. Life on Mars. Space Oddity. Heroes. Ashes to Ashes. Under Pressure. Let’s Dance. Modern Love. Black Star. So many songs, sounds and visions. His career spanned six decades.
Perhaps his shape-shifting nature was what made him so popular. Perhaps it was his extensive collaboration with musicians and vocalists (some with successful results-think Freddie Mercury, others less so-think Mick Jagger). Perhaps it was the staying power of someone who met with failure and bounced back, wrestling with personal demons and using music as catharsis.
He captured people’s imagination in a way that made it all right to be different. In fact, he actually made it cool to be different from the norm and challenge the status quo. According to Annie Lennox, Bowie was “…a quintessential visionary, pushing the limits of his shape-shifting persona. The ultimate iconoclast – gracious, dangerous and legendary.”
He was a black star, but only because we live in a world in which all the characters, as David Bowie’s imagination created them, could exist, however alien. He will continue to inspire as the music lives on. We can be heroes, but only if we can be ourselves, allow young people to imagine, and create visions that resonate and transcend beyond the prosaic realities of life.
Starman – 1972
Ashes to Ashes – 1980
Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity (revised) in Space – 2013
Melodians Steel Orchestra – The Man Who Sold the World for Jeremy Deller’s English Magic – 2014
Blackstar – 2016