Tuesday, January 26, 2016
David Bowie died this month, unexpectedly to most of us. A lot of us took it hard, including me. Like the Glass Spider in one of his songs, I shed tears. Apparently he knew he was going, and even in death managed to handle it artfully, with great image, and flair. Two days before he died, he had a birthday, released an album, and did a photoshoot.
Listening to his final album posthumously, it’s obviously an artist saying “goodbye” the only way he knows how - artistically. He was so much more than an innovator. He was a ground breaker that took music, art, style and performance where it hadn’t been, and helped peers he believed in along the way like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople. This doesn’t even go near the ranks of musicians he influenced, directly or indirectly, immediate, or years later.
Being from the MTV generation, Bowie’s video for “Let’s Dance” was the introduction I remembered. I loved that song from the first time I heard it, and seeing the video, I wondered who that suave talented dude was. It’s still one of my favorite songs to this day, and one of a handful of songs I can’t turn off when it’s on. Soon after “Let’s Dance” was released, I was living in a small desert town in California, called Barstow. I used to call the local radio station every afternoon and request “Let’s Dance,” and sometimes they’d play it.
At that time in the early 80s, Duran Duran were my favorite band. They always cited Bowie as an influence, and the influence was obvious. Duran Duran wore their influences on their sleeves. They even covered “Fame” as a b-side. In saw the correlation - catchy danceable music, great performance, artsy aire, impeccable style. They were imitators, but didn’t come close to Bowie.
One night I babysat a neighbor’s kids. Basically I went over to the house and sat around while the kids slept. I looked through the father’s cassette collection, and found a Bowie cassette I’d never heard of. It was called ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” I popped it in a slid some headphones on. The album and sound were amazing. “Let’s Dance” was great, but this was so much more. Every track on the album was wonderful.
Local radio kept me exposed to Bowie’s hits, and I picked up albums like “Tonight” and “Never Let Me Down.” I loved “Blue Jean” from the “Tonight” album, as well as “Loving the Alien.” I remember seeing a TV broadcast of the “Glass Spider Tour” for that album. I still have it on VHS.
I finally got to see Bowie live in the early 90s on the “Sound and Vision” tour, which was touted as the last time he would play “the hits.” Around this time was when I started to dig deeper into Bowie, beyond the hits. The show was great, with Adrian Belew on guitar. As usual, the stage show was a spectacle in and of itself, with scrims, lighting, projections and more.
In fact, Bowie’s stage production on the “Sound and Vision” had a long lasting effect on me. I still babble about scrims, backlighting and gobos. When I worked in the golf industry, I worked on a redesign of the art for Ashworth Golf’s 2001 PGA booth. Heavily Bowie influenced, with a little Depeche Mode thrown in! Fabric art, backlighting, and gobos.
Many people don’t realize what a tech innovator Bowie was as well. In 97 or 98 he ran a web venture that offered digital access to his catalog, and even online access like a service provider. Definitely a precursor to internet service providers as well as sites like Napster and Limewire.
Throughout the 90s I kept up with Bowie as he continued to put out a solid body of work with albums like “Outside,” “Black Tie, White Noise,” “Heathen,” and “Earthling.”
With the advent of file-sharing and the Internet, I was able to collect hours of Bowie live shows, which I still listen to regularly. My favorites and the gems of my collection remain a “Serious Moonlight” tour show, and a late 90s New Years/ birthday show thrown for Bowie. But, the gem in my Bowie bootleg crown are the “Serious Moonlight” tour rehearsals with Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar recorded right before their fallout over pay for the US Festival.
Bowie is a true icon, truly one of a kind. Only a handful of artists belong in the same breath - Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones...few others, if even all of them. Bowie was unarguably the most influential music, performance, and style icon.
A comment I read this week referred to Bowie as the gateway drug. If you’re the innovator and influencer, how can you be the gateway drug? Other bands were the gateway drug, and Bowie was the heroin. Bowie was the epitome of art, talent, style, innovation, a chameleon of chameleons. Bands I was into like Duran Duran, The Smiths, and so many more were the gateway drugs to Bowie.
Bowie showed us what music, style, performance and art could be. Bowie is known for his personas, changing through the years, and the eras. From his early tenures in the 60s with various brands, to glam rock and blue eyed soul of the 70s, through new wave in the 80s, to house and industrial experimentation in the 90s to his final jazz fusion experiments on his final album.
Bowie did it all.
Bowie was a beautiful boy.