David Bowie

Yesterday I said that instead of a review today I would write a post about David Bowie. This then left me with the same problem as countless other people had yesterday: what on earth can you possibly say? He’s been around my entire life – I was born the week Aladdin Sane came out. I wasn’t old enough to really get the impact that he made on music from 1972-1978, but certainly in the 1980s I was listening to him, even though until college I was never really obsessed with music. You’d hear his singles on the radio – Ashes to Ashes, Let’s Dance, Modern Love – WELI, my local AM radio station, would play Modern Love incessantly, possibly due to its ‘retro’ nature.


When I got to college, I began to obsess about music to a ridiculous degree, and of course that meant Bowie as well. My first mixtape that I ever made had a Bowie song on it – Suffragette City, still one of my top 5 Bowie songs. Like many, I gravitated more towards the glam Bowie – I still do, and my first choice of albums to listen to yesterday were Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust. But I knew that the musicians that I liked, those whose CDs I bought, and whose interviews I read in the NME, they all talked about a different period that I had trouble getting into – not quite as immediately rewarding, but with greater depth. This would, of course, be the Berlin Trilogy, which was Bowie’s equivalent of The Velvet Underground and Nico, i.e. everyone who listened to the albums formed a band. Except they sold a lot more than TVUAN ever did.

Bowie also touched some of my other musical obsessions. First of all it was nice to have a singer who was in my vocal range – Under Pressure was doable if I didn’t have to sing Freddie’s part! J.G. Thirlwell posted a lovely tribute to Bowie yesterday, talking about how his music influenced his work as Foetus (and likely his current instrumental scoring for The Venture Brothers). Frank Zappa disliked Bowie – stealing Frank’s lead guitar player mid-tour certainly didn’t help – but used Bowie’s then stunning music video iconography in one of his best 80s satirical songs, Be In My Video. There were punk rockers who cited Bowie as an influence, less for the musical style and more for the attitude and exaggeration. And of course as a Doctor Who fan I had to like Bowie – it was a well-known fact that Bowie was secretly a Time Lord, and would never die but merely regenerate.

But sadly that hasn’t happened, and we once again are left with little to say except perhaps “fuck cancer”. I feel bad that I never listened to more of his later period – when I was in college, finally listening to his early 70s period, Black Tie White Noise and Tin Machine II were coming out to critical shrugs. It seemed for a time that every new Bowie album was the comeback… then the next one would be the new comeback, and you’d realized the critics had written off the prior. But that’s music criticism for you, and by the time those reviews came out he’d likely moved on to something else anyway. In the end, I suppose all I’m left with is what everyone else has been saying. David Bowie’s music spoke to outsiders, kooks, weirdos, and those who felt distanced from everyone else. I hope that each new generation who feels the same way can find inspiration and solace in his work, and use it to create their own ethereal, otherworldly beauty. Even if they may find it hard to sing “let all the children boogie” with a straight face.

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  1. A lovely remembrance! I can’t even begin to figure out what to say, so I’ll just leave this here.

    I think the first time I really paid attention to Bowie was quintessentially ’80s: remember when he and Mick Jagger did a cover of “Dancing in the Street” and it was, like, appended to the movie Teen Wold with Michael J. Fox? I loved it. I had the 45 with the picture sleeve and would make my little brother do interpretive dances with me while I sang Bowie’s part. (I thought I did a good impression of him. Most likely this was very false.)

    Somewhere around this time there was a swatch commercial with “Changes” on it. A friend in high school put “Alabama Song” on a tape for me, which I loved. I owned a compilation CD at some point. But it wasn’t ’til husband-to-be put “Ashes to Ashes” on a tape for me that I was truly awestruck and began seeking out more.

    Like you, I love the early ’70s period most of all. “Kooks.” “The Man Who Sold the World.” (In the car, I have been known to mime that one time the drummer does something different. You probably know the spot.) “Soul Love,” “Starman,” “Suffragette City,” “The Prettiest Star,” “Lady Grinning Soul”… But after this I do deeply love a smattering of later things. “TVC 15,” “Sound and Vision,” “Absolute Beginners,” and, of course, “Ashes to Ashes.” And more.

    Mortality truly sucks.

  2. Thanks for this, Sean. I thought about writing something, but I was having a hard time putting down any words at all yesterday. What’s great about reading everyone else’s remembrances, is that I feel like Bowie was special to all of us for kind of the same reasons, which is really rare.

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