It seems inappropriate to write about anything else today. The above drawing (by the talented Helen Green) says it all, so many memorable looks, so many personas captured in one man. Word spread around the office quick and I found out that a lot of people my age don’t know what songs he did. “Name a couple”, one of them asked, but what do you name? “Space Oddity”? “Ziggy Stardust”? “Heroes”? “Ashes to Ashes”, “Fame”, “Let’s Dance”, “Changes”, “Queen Bitch”, “China Girl”, hell, what about “Under Pressure”? All I could say is, “trust me, you’ve heard some of them”, and I should know; I’ve been a fan of both “Rebel Rebel” and “Golden Years” for a long time without knowing that they were Bowie songs, even though I owned several of his CDs. There is no song, no album, no image, no era that defines David Bowie, and that’s what he will wind up being remembered for. That was always his reputation – a “musical chameleon” who could adapt into anything, which was both a compliment and a criticism. Certainly there were many who argued that Bowie never had a style of his own, instead choosing to follow popular trends in search of record sales. There is definitely some truth to that, though I can’t imagine any other megastar artist at the peak of their popularity releasing two albums that were half instrumentals. With Bowie you just never knew. He was willing to try just about anything, and usually talented enough to pull it off. No doubt there are plenty of career retrospectives being written as we speak and we know that they will be long. He failed rather spectacularly in the beginning of his career, tanking single after single, eventually penning the brilliant “Space Oddity” and then catapulting to superstardom a few years later with his Ziggy Stardust persona and his excellent backing band, The Spiders From Mars. And then he broke up the band and did a bunch of other stuff, scored about a dozen more hits along the way, and appeared in the movie Zoolander. Among many other things.
One phrase I’ve been reading a lot online today: “you’re not a music fan if you don’t like David Bowie”. Certainly no one’s going to disagree with that now. You might not like everything he did, in fact I would imagine even his greatest fans agree he’s put out a number of duds over the years. But there’s a Bowie song for everyone, and that’s why compilations like Changesbowie wind up going platinum – look at the tracklisting, who doesn’t love at least one of those songs? At his best he was untouchable; such urgency and presence, with so much spare talent that he barely seemed human. Of course it couldn’t all work out, but that’s Bowie for you. Just look at the graphic above; so many classic looks, along with so much “what the hell was he thinking?” I always found that inspiring, because let’s face it, if you’re a guy, it’s not exactly socially acceptable to change up your look like this. Of course Bowie defied all ideas of sexuality as well, but that’s another story. Think of the men you’ve known for a while, particularly the way they dress, and the way they keep their hair. Most of them generally don’t change – I know guys who have gotten the same haircut every month for over a decade, or dads wearing the same moustache for half their lives. As though there comes a point where you determine what suits you best, and to deviate from it means desperation, or worse, an attempt to portray yourself as something that you’re not. But me, I’ve always loved changing up my look, and I attribute a lot of that to my fascination with Bowie over the years, the idea that you can be or look however you want to, and most importantly that you can change and still be true to yourself. This is why you will be seeing so many tributes to the man in the following weeks – he was one man, but so many personalities, and chances are there’s something in him that you either identify with or are fascinated by. There’s so much to dissect here and quite frankly I don’t have it in me to write about it now, but suffice to say I’ll be missing the man dearly.