bowie as ziggy

“It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone.” – Carrie Brownstein

“Bowie made the criticism of white masculinity seem not only necessary but cool and hip–you could dance to it.” – Curtis Marez

“Simply that, you provided the sideways like us with such rare and out-there company…such fellowship. You pulled us in and left your arm dangling over our necks…and kept us warm – as you have for – isn’t it ? – centuries now. You were, You are One of us” – Tilda Swinton to Bowie at opening of V&A Bowie Exhibition

“A lot of folks have expressed shock that Bowie died, because somehow they thought he was immortal. But the thing is, he was immortal. He is.” – Sam Hurwitt

“If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.” Dean Podesta THE DAY BEFORE BOWIE DIED

“David Bowie did not die. He simply chose to go back home to the planet he came from. After all he was the man who fell to earth.” – E.J. Russo

“No one in our lifetime was (how impossible that past tense feels) as ineffably cool as David Bowie, and no one else ever will be. Any one who has ever felt her- or himself to be an outsider only had to look to Bowie to feel like there was someone out there who understood, who got it. What’s so remarkable about the outpouring of both love and grief, is that it turns out we are all outsiders, and we all had – and have – Bowie to inspire and unite us.” – Benj Hewitt

“The stars look very different today.” – everyone

Besides the sheer autonomic ecstasy of listening to his songs, besides a fulsome, sumptuous catalog with as much depth and breadth as any musician I’ve ever heard, what I’ll remember most about David Bowie’s music was its indefatigable restlessness. It was as though Bowie listened to each song he wrote and said, “no, wait, too much like what’s already out there,” and then twisted or warped it again, coating it in another layer of primordial new-age funk or likewise surprise.

Consider the musical currents in 1971, when Bowie was recording the album that catapulted him onto the world, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Not to throw anyone under the bus, but if you listen    now to the original Woodstock, there’s a sense from many of the artists of just going through the motions, picking up on Dylan’s and the Beatles’ folk-rock innovations and simply making anodyne versions of the same. The same period also brought us “heavy metal” (named in the 1969 song “Born to Be Wild”), as more bands tried to sound like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Third there was Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone and others trying to outfunk James Brown. Fourth, there was the progressive-rock movement, best-known to outsiders through the brilliant Pink Floyd but also including a lot of other artists whose work was, to put it nicely, intentionally recondite and often inaccessible. Fifth, there was whatever Velvet Underground had been trying to do, moving toward what would be called punk/alternative. David Bowie was somehow all of these and none of these, the best of their tendencies without any of the flab, yet always incredibly listenable…no one had to convince you he was brilliant; you heard his songs once and knew you’d both love them more and learn more by hearing them ten more times.

david bowie album

How did David Bowie do it? Well, like all great artists, he only looks inevitable in retrospect. He had many, many failures throughout the 1960s. I feel that a crucial realization of his was that recording songs as “David Jones” wouldn’t fly with the Monkees’ Davy Jones around. Restless re-invention became his means, motive, and meaning. The word “Bowie,” which David took from the American frontiersman, would keep its pioneer connotation and then come to summarize volcanic talent and voracious musical intellect. All that said, goddammit, who begins a career with “Space Oddity,” with singing in an echo chamber “Ground control to Major Tom?” You’re supposed to begin with something more stripped-down, like James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves” or Elton John’s “Your Song.” When you have your breakthrough album, you’re not supposed to already be light years ahead of your peers, instantly comparable to contemporaries like the Who and the Stones who’d spent a decade honing their craft. And you’re certainly not supposed to keep proving it again and again, as Bowie did with every album he made in the 1970s and not a few afterward.

He was so generous! He was no Salinger or even Michael Jackson, impeded by caution. He did duets with everyone from Bing Crosby to Cher to Freddie Mercury. He appeared all over the place even as his creative innovations outpaced his peers by…well, light years. We need 100 more of him. We will only ever have had one.

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Yes, let the elegies and encomiums remind us of his prodigious, worldwide influence. That’s important; there was, for example, no such thing as “glam rock” without Bowie. But today I’m not alone in thinking less about the generations of musicians that indisputably owe their success to him, and more about the millions of anonymous people who felt less alone either/both because of his music and because of who he was, the androgynous, polymorphic, deviant Thin White Duke. Bowie was born a good-looking English blond ectomorph with pipes; he could have simply managed his image as Rod Stewart did, but he chose to be, well, weirder, WAY before almost anyone else of his stature. There is absolutely no way to quantitatively measure how much Bowie’s influence made the Western world less hetero-normative – yet there is absolutely no doubt that Bowie saved lives, almost 40 years before Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” campaign. I think of all the ostracized, humiliated, attacked, bullied kids (and some adults) of the last 40 years, and I think of them returning to their bedrooms, wanting to kill themselves. We lost some of them. Others changed their minds for non-Bowie-related reasons. But others found solace in Bowie’s image, or heard something like Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide”

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if i could only
Make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
(screamed) You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

…and were saved.

David, you weren’t alone. Thank you for all of it, for every song and video and thought, and for a world that’s still catching up to you.

bowie as ziggy looking down

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