David Bowie was 1 of the 1st ppl to make weird acceptable for the masses & give kids who didn’t connect w/ 60’s do-op, someone to connect to – Frances Bean Cobain tweet.
I hadn’t planned on posting today. But for the record, David Bowie died today at 69 years old of cancer. To say I’m in shock hardly describes it. He literally just put out an album (‘Blackstar’) which I guess will now be his epitaph. I don’t believe it was well-known that he was sick but apparently he’d had it for 18 months. (For the record, like Joni Mitchell, you see him in a lot of photographs smoking. It catches up with you).
I first heard Bowie during what the rock press – who have to label everything – called the glam rock period. Wikipedia describes it – not inaccurately – as “a style of rock music first popular in the early 1970s, characterized by male performers wearing exaggeratedly flamboyant clothes and makeup.” I can tell you that people did not know what to make of Bowie’s androgyny, especially in the somewhat macho world of rock music. But even his detractors know he was a talent to be reckoned with.
One of my all time favorite Bowie tunes is “Space Oddity.” It works on so many different levels. It’s about being lost, alienated. But in space? Or on drugs? Or within oneself.
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”
As a performer – as an artist – Bowie went through many incarnations – Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, R&B singer, actor, performance artist. And rocker. And he was a great, great rocker. I just recently learned how to play the riff from “Rebel, Rebel” on the guitar as well as maybe my favorite Bowie song of all time, “Suffragette City.” Wham bam thank you mam! This song fucking rocks and I listen to it just about every time I work out. Pumps the blood you know. Love the guitar by Mick Ronson.
As an actor, Bowie played The Elephant Man on Broadway to generally good reviews. He was in some other stuff too, notably a movie called “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” parts of which it just so happens I recently saw. It’s an oddball sci-fi film with a cult following. I remember Bowie saying he’d never acted but the director told him to just keep doing what he was doing. The song “Starman” is not from this movie but the title makes me think of it. It cropped up in the recent film, “The Martian” and just has one of those great can’t get-it-out-of-my-head melodies.
Bowie was by no means a bluesman but he was at heart an R&B singer, even once going to Philly to record there and pick up that sound. (He was fond of going to different places to pick up on the ambient mood. Some of his most successful work was done with Brian Eno behind the then Iron Curtain in Berlin.)
I mention this in part because it’s notable that while Bowie did not discover Stevie Ray Vaughn, he certainly did much to popularize him. Bowie heard him at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and was so impressed with the guitarist he later said “[he] completely floored me. I probably hadn’t been so gung-ho about a guitar player since seeing Jeff Beck with his band the Tridents.” (Note to self – find out more about the Tridents).
A song from this album that features SRV – who as a blues obsessive was barely familar with Bowie’s stuff – is the title tune, “Let’s Dance.” This album was a huge hit and I like to think that Stevie Ray was a big part of that.
There’s too many Bowie songs I have to leave out (“Heroes”, “Changes”, “Stay”, “The Jean Genie”) but this is, I think, a reasonable representation, at least for me. As a white male, I was hardly an outsider. But as Kurt Cobain’s daughter said in the quote at the top, Bowie made it ok to be different, ok to be an outsider. And for me, that and his music are his greatest legacy.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
RIP David Jones. You were one of a kind.