Its impossible to understate the effect that David Bowie had on the world. Its impossible to understate the legacy that he leaves and the pathway he cut for the modern world.
Being one of the most important cultural influences of the modern world, the Picasso of pop, a constant engine of reinvention and not so much a reflection of the zeitgeist but the active ingredient in it, there will be hundreds of articles and eulogies written by people closer to and more educated on the man himself. So I will talk mostly about the relationship I have with him, a man born 43 years before me who I never met or even saw in the flesh.
For my Seventh birthday I wanted a CD player, which was interesting as I had very little interest in music. I think I wanted to be my father, who had an insane amount of albums and a large black stereo system that stood monolithic in the corner of the living room, out of bounds, untouchable unless it was one of the odd occasions that under strict supervision its magic could be shared. My Father’s musical obsession was overwhelming, and living in a household where both your parents have an astounding passion for music, (my Mother laying somewhere between flower child of the sixties and eighties eye liner stained New Romantic has always had a firmer grip on modern music, whilst my father liked the more obscure sounds) meant that it was common place, and therefore I was spoiled and didn’t appreciate it. I had no passion for music.
That was until I bought the 1997 Children in Need charity single “Perfect Day”, a suitably embarrassing first single, but featuring contributions from Lou Reed, Courtney Pine, and Suzanne Vega it was a great tasting platter for future interests. But the man who stood out the most, was David Bowie. With only two lines, the way he sounded was enough to get me hooked, an instant grab that I would never experience again until I fell in love with Ian Curtis in my teens. His voice was powerful, alien, charming and alluring. My mother fed my addiction and bought me two Best of collections (David Bowie best of 1969 to 1974, and Best of 1980 to 1987) albums from the musical mail order company Britannia music. These, and a CD of Cajun music given to me by my Grandfather, were the only three CD’s on my CD tower left over from the redecoration of the living room.
It was from the age if Seven years old that David Bowie started telling me things. Through music, and later style and culture, Bowie has had messages and statements that I’ve taken to heart. Experimentation and reinvention are two concepts that Bowie has always played with, and things I aim to copy. In his music he was constantly juggling with pop and outsider art. Space Oddity is a perfect pop song and a bleak song about the futility of Space exploration, Starman is a catchy tune and a song about extraterrestrial space gods, and Ashes To Ashes was a new wave song embracing the full force of the technology of the time. One of my favorite albums has arguably the best intro in the form of Station to Station from… well Station to Station that with its radio signal static and steam train drone feeds directly into the post rock music of Godspeed you Black Emperor. Stylus magazine once stated that ‘Had the album [Low] been released twenty years later, this would have been called “post-rock.”‘
David Bowie was the outsider king; bringing the weird into the forefront of the public eye. In the early seventies, a world still steeped in stoicism and post war male posturing Bowie was unafraid to step on stage at 25 years old, dressed as an alien deposited on Earth to play music. He sang of Armageddon and Hallucination, anti-capitalism and anti-establishment, and he was on television, and in magazines. A contradiction of terms, and to me, looking back on this man an inspiration.
He experimented with the roles of Gender and sexuality, appearing on album covers in a dress, gender swapping clothing with his wife out and about in London, putting his arm around his guitarist dressed androgynously on Top Of The Pops. His close relationships with Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger were the cause of much rumor and in my teenage years he was a real support for me and my blossoming Bisexuality. His style in clothing and album art is next to none, even down to the 2000 Glastonbury appearance where he proved that even as a man standing looking back on a career of characters and roles he was still master of them all.
The most important message David Bowie ever gave me was “You are not alone”. The last song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Rock and Roll, builds from quiet introspective introduction to bold crescendo ends with Bowie’s voice singing bass to his high pitched vocals, and he sings:
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
And in that moment he is giving the most important advice, the single most striking message, that you can be weird. You can be emotional and expressive, you can be gay and flamboyant, you can be who you want to be, and you’re not alone, because we can all be who we want to be, who ever that is, and that person is wonderful.