By Ethan Robinson
On Jan. 10, passed a sheer star of our world. That star was David Bowie.
Renowned as one who pushed not only musical but social boundaries, Bowie inspired many, from artists to the everyday person. In his very image and message it carried, he blurred the lines of what was thought acceptable for sexuality, fashion, and art itself. This message has spread around the world and thus has united millions in love of David Bowie, and in mourning of his recent death of cancer.
Bowie was born on Jan. 8, to an English father and an Irish mother. His affinity for the arts began early on in childhood; his teachers recalling him as a creative and gifted child. One day, he saw a cousin begin to dance to Elvis, and his love affair with music began.
Although his voice in junior school choir was thought of as “adequate” by his instructor, Bowie quickly got into the ukulele and tea-chest bass and would play folk jam sessions with friends. His musical mannerisms were, least to say, unique, his almost natural stage presence being recounted as “mesmerizing”, and, “like someone from another planet.”
After doing various odd-jobs, appearing in commercials and choreographing dances, Bowie finally found his time for music. From the late 60’s to early 70’s, Bowie released the albums Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World; the former being more folk rock while the latter had a heavier rock sound, which some say contributed to the rise of metal. But both ultimately led to Bowie creating the “Ziggy Stardust” persona and the ground-breaking image and music that accompanied it. Highlighted by Bowie’s outrageous, androgynous look and manic stage-antics, this beginning period is best known for the hit single Starman. The iconic red hair and lightning-bolt stricken face is often the image most attributed to David Bowie, but the superstar had many other stage personas and musical eras as well.
Next, within the mid-70’s came the musical persona, “The Thin White Duke”, which mirrored the character that Bowie famously portrayed in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. Following this came a time seen as Bowie’s “Berlin era,” the now vastly famous pop star finding great interest and love in the growing music scene in West Berlin. Bowie lived in Berlin with fellow star Iggy Pop for a time, revitalizing the music scene there with the album and title-single, Heroes, being greatly influenced and dedicated to Germany. Bowie’s pop and artistic style, did endow great effect upon the emerging genre of “krautrock” at the time as well. This period of Bowie’s life was heavily involved in Berlin during the twilight of the Cold War. Thus it could be said through the means of reviving culture and art through his music, Bowie played an important part in the breaking of the Berlin Wall.
During the 80’s, Bowie descended even more into the realms of pop and what is now referred to as the “New Romantic era”. Bowie famously paired with Freddie Mercury in Queen for the hit single “Under Pressure”, also achieving widespread commercial success with the singles “Let’s Dance”, “Modern Love” and “China Girl.” Later in 1986, Bowie would star as the Goblin King, Jareth, in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, performing and writing five songs for the film. In 1985, Bowie also performed a multi-venue concert for Ethiopian famine-relief, called “Live Aid.” Queen, Black Sabbath and Mick Jagger were also one of many stars to be present at the performance.
A decade later, Bowie’s music took a wider turn for the experimental and electronic realm, and he continued to tour solo. Throughout this time he continued to compose music for other works such as films, TV shows and even a video game. The early 2000’s were no different, as the Starman was still rocking the Earth through world tours and numerous composing and collaborations. One such band he widely supported, was Arcade Fire, Bowie appearing as a cameo vocal on their fourth album Reflektor. In the year 2004, however, David Bowie ceased all tour activity, and went on a hiatus.The world believing him to be retired, the break lasted ten years, until Bowie released the album The Next Day, surprising all of his fans. And this year on Jan. 8, the album Blackstar was given to the world on Bowie’s birthday, two days before his death.
Though described by The Independent, “as far as he’s strayed from pop”, Blackstar holds immense symbolic and definitely purposeful importance in David Bowie’s career. The words, enveloped in a dystopian musical haze, are almost prophetic in meaning. The music videos accompanying the album are so weird you can only imagine what symbolism lies behind it. According to Tony Visconti, Bowie’s producer, he reportedly knew of the artist’s terminal cancer a full year before most, Bowie personally telling him so that he could fully understand that what Bowie wanted from his final record was for it to be a “parting gift.” And what a parting gift it was, with such timely release, and what a phenomenal way to live and leave this world.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie