Two years ago today, a mere two days after his 69th birthday, David Bowie died. He worked in secret on one final album, entitled Blackstar, which dropped on said 69th birthday. And then he was gone. Bowie died of cancer; this is not totally surprising given how much he smoked during his lifetime (although it was liver, not lung, cancer that finally took his life). His legacy hardly needs repeating. Multiple albums spawning numerous genres. A few choice film roles, tailored to his…unique sensibilities. Paintings, which, for the most part, remain unseen. Photographic images and costumes that defined ‘rock musician’ for a decade or more. Invaluable assistance to artists he deemed worthy (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mick Ronson).
Bowie’s recorded output during the 1970’s alone would have ensured him a place in rock history. The man made Glam rock a household phrase (as discussed on this very blog yesterday), he dabbled in singer-songwriter, and he took the disparate strands of German electronic sounds, merged them within a rock framework, and created ‘new wave’ music. Unlike with Glam, where Bowie was on the forefront but not necessarily the originator, it’s harder to argue that his “Berlin trilogy” of albums ‘Low‘, ‘Heroes‘, and ‘Lodger‘ weren’t the first albums to be ‘new wave’. Follow up (and his first lp of the 80’s) ‘Scary Monsters‘ was also ahead of the curve (bands like Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, and others would all take bits of this electronic and icy sound and incorporate it into their works). And then he did an about-face, and put out the bluesy, poppy, open and accessible Let’s Dance. Boy howdy do I hate that album, and it’s follow-up, Tonight. It’s funny…whenever I meet a self-professed Bowie fan who claims “Let’s Dance” as their favorite album, I wonder if they even know of any other Bowie works. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to like “Let’s Dance” go ahead, I won’t stop you, but…c’mon…dig deeper.
My personal reservations aside, making a concessionary pop album thrust Bowie into the spotlight in ways even he wasn’t aware would occur. After Let’s Dance, Tonight, and Never Let Me Down, Bowie once again upset his newfound popular status quo and…joined a rock band. And then he recorded an updated ‘plastic soul‘ album, harkening back to his mid-70’s Young Americans period. Then he made 1. Outside, which was supposed to be a part of a new Berlin trilogy’ with Brian Eno, however, whether it was Bowie’s restless nature or the largely tuneless, unlistenable mess that was Outside, he never followed up on this. Further albums saw him exploring jungle and electronica, soft-rock, art-rock, and jazz-rock. Bowie never stopped moving, right up until his death.
So, while he wasn’t always the originator, he was always an innovator, and it’s clear he was always searching and questing. Bowie could have rested on his laurels before he even made “Let’s Dance.” He could have retired comfortably, never to be seen or heard from again (seen…let’s not forget the 1986 film Labyrinth which brought the world…Bowie’s bulge. Yikes), yet he kept on going. What compels a man? His legacy was secure. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to keep giving to the world. And I (as part of the world), thank him for that. Wherever he is now (Life on Mars?, maybe), he’s probably still curious, and still communicating with his new world in ways that few of us ever do while we’re on this world. To paraphrase Tommy Lee Jones from the film Men In Black “No, David Bowie didn’t die, he just went home.” Come visit anytime you want, David.