David Bowie – The passing of a Legend
It was with great sadness that I learned that the musical legend David Bowie finally lost a very personal and privately fought battle with cancer. Unknown to most he had been diagnosed 18 months earlier and is reported to have died peacefully surrounded by his loved ones.
I like to think that I have a very pragmatic and grounded mindset toward the reality of death and the inevitable prospect of dying myself so I have been quite thrown by how melancholic this news has left me feeling. I will not profess to feel as though I have lost a member of my family or close friend as this would be sensationalist and dismissive of the more tangible and deserved feelings of those much nearer to him than I. I, after all, am but one of many millions of fans that David Bowie influenced along his journey. But many musicians, actors, comedians and authors whose work I have enjoyed have passed away in my lifetime and, though I have always felt sorry for their passing and silently thanked them for their work, in David Bowie’s case his passing is very different for me. Odd though it sounds I never thought of him actually getting older. I think I somehow considered him being slightly more than mere mortal. Perhaps this is because he always possessed an almost unearthly quality to him, alien even. Or was it simply that he never seemed to age because he moved so fluidly and constantly kept ahead of his time?
With every passing decade Bowie shape shifted both his sound and image but, rather than struggling (like most) to keep up with the herd, he instead often travelled his own direction. This invariably proved to be the more successful path and indeed resulted in him and his styles constantly being followed. He invented many larger than life personas through which to perform his music and to alter his artistic journey and often switched to the next persona well before the last ones appeal had run dry. He knew how and when to move forward artistically and was never afraid to take chances as he did.
So why is it, when the passing of other artists has not affected me, that David Bowie’s passing has left me feeling so sad? Let’s be honest, I’ve never even met the guy. But the fact is that, as I grew up he was one of the few reliable constants in my youth and in many ways has been responsible for the soundtrack to my life. Yes I know that that’s an obvious cliché but it’s actually true. As I have been aging Bowie always knew the appropriate lyrics to apply to my age group.
Bowie dared, not just to be different, but to also to declare quite publically through his music and performances that it was okay for others to be different too, be it artistically, sexually, fashionably, or in any manner of different lifestyle choices.
He even suggested it was okay to fail or to struggle. I took from the lyrics of ‘Kooks’ that he was saying to his Son that he may not get parenthood right, or at least the conventional interpretation of it right. The lyrics still promised however that if his son, Duncan, took a leap of faith in them as parents then it would be worth the gamble. Seeing how Duncan jones has turned out, a brilliant artist in his own right, this promise was clearly paid up in full.
Throughout his life, Bowie was at the cutting edge of Music, Fashion, Make up and even performance art. As a result his work often transcended into something not always easy to categorise or label but, regardless, it was often new and innovative.
He also understood the importance of technology and was an early adopter of multimedia in the form of ‘Bowienet’ whereby his fans could be kept up to date with his news and media.
I remember many years ago playing a game called ‘Nomad Soul’ in which both Bowie and his music appeared. The game itself was flawed but it hinted at bigger and better virtual worlds that were to follow. I did enjoy the game but for me the best part was Bowie’s involvement. The open-world of Nomad Soul was a kooky third person adventure world which included music by Bowie as sung by in-game characters in night clubs. Again, though it was far from perfect and has aged poorly it was, in its day, an artistically innovative game that was beautifully stylised.
Bowie’s appeal was not just that he was a great artist but was also that he was clearly a unique one. He cared about the world around him, people and his art form which he often pushed, innovated and experimented with. His lyrics resonated with people and often referred to something that they could relate to in a language they could understand.
Throughout my movie going life, scenes have often been enhanced by his music and sometimes even just by the use of his lyrics. I remember seeing the opening scene to ‘The Breakfast Club’ and listening to Simple minds singing along to the credits but it was Bowie’s lyrics from ‘Changes’ quoted at the end of the scene that made the most impact on me. It summed up the whole film and a lot of how I was feeling at the time towards the education system and the world around me.
There have been numerous times as I’ve been growing up when I’ve watched a film, drama or documentary that has suddenly been elevated by the injection of a David Bowie track. ‘Space Oddity’ in ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, ‘Starman’ in ‘The Martian’, ‘Moonage Daydream’ as used in Guardians of the Galaxy and ‘Life on Mars’ from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to name but a very few. And why don’t I list all of his film credits here? Because a quick search of IMDB will inform you that he had 452* movie score credits to his name. His music has been used in a multitude of films of differing genres and languages. That alone must surely be testament to his global appeal.
(*I’m sure that if you wait a few more years and look back at IMDB that this number will have increased somewhat)
I will always be thankful for David Bowie’s life and will always be grateful that he shared it, his art and his philosophies with us. He was an incredibly talented man but will live on as both a musical legend and cultural icon who, even as his own death approached, had the presence of mind and sheer brilliance to organise and deliver his own farewell piece in the form of ‘Blackstar’. An album as fresh, innovative, unsettling and thought provoking as Bowie ever was. For him to have left this goodbye, this parting gift for his soon-to-be mourning fans demonstrates that even as time caught up with him and pulled him from this world he remained dignified and…let’s face it, one classy bugger.
R.I.P. David Jones/Bowie/The Goblin King
1947 – 2016
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