It’s been few days since the announcement of the death of a hero – David Robert Jones, better known to the world as rock icon David Bowie. It came as quite a shock, since he was by all accounts a very private person, keeping the news of his illness a closely guarded secret.
It was perhaps all the more surprising in the light of his recent resurgence with the well-received album The Next Day in 2013, and Blackstar, a brand new album release to kick off 2016 in style.
Many of us who grew up with his music found a strange sense of connection to this starman with the endless ch ch changes of persona. His bold experimentation with diverse musical styles, the sometimes outrageous fashion sense and his often radical and mysterious lyrics, all spoke of a performer of unique creativity. He somehow seemed both down to Earth and yet other-worldly.
I can remember the disappointment as a teenage fan, desperately wanting to adopt the ‘Bowie Cut’ hairstyle that became popular in the early seventies, my parents being rather less keen on the idea. I also recall just missing out on a chance to see him play one of the final dates of the Ziggy Stardust tour in London in 1973, before he retired Ziggy to the home for outrageous mythical rock stars.
Forming his first band at fifteen, one suspects he always knew he’d be a star. He went on to deliver a string of brilliant albums and singles, always experimenting, taking risks and pushing forward creatively. During an incredible career spanning over five decades, he worked with scores of legendary performers, producers and luminaries of the creative world. He was active in theatre, starred in movies and eventually married a supermodel. Quite a journey for this wild eyed boy from Brixton. His son Duncan from his first marriage is not doing too badly either, carving out his own career as a movie director.
Bowie, ever the renaissance man, also painted and apparently read voraciously, devouring an impressively broad spectrum of literature, ranging from classic fiction to Viz magazine.
For teenage rebel rebels, or those much older, he was a magnetic figure – defying easy classification, bending musical ideas and genders across decades of restless creative flux. From the streets of Brixton to New York city, from the cafes of Berlin to the crazy coke-fueled Los Angeles days, Bowie was the man who sold the world, with an abundance of musical intelligence and charisma.
The rock n roll lifestyle has claimed so many victims way too young, so we should be grateful the thin white duke made it this far, navigating those decadent decades of cigarettes and substance abuse to keep on writing, singing and producing so fruitfully into his fifties and sixties.
How to deal with the death of a musical hero? They occupy a unique position for many of us – influencing us, comforting us in difficult times, inspiring us or showing us new and extraordinary ways to think, feel and live. They provide the soundtrack to our lives. Their music gets inside our heads and inside our hearts, becoming a welcome lodger. For me his music was a key part of those golden years of my youth, before the harsh realities of adult life showed up to spoil the show.
The loss of this English oddity will leave a huge space in the hearts of millions of fans around the world. His generous parting gift, the album Blackstar, is a fitting farewell, full of the originality and lyrical mysteries we always treasured. I’m sure new generations will grow up to discover the genius of a man who often did seem to have fallen to Earth from an alien world.
So goodbye David, cracked actor, diamond dog. You left us too soon, but your music and spirit will live on. Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing we can do. So Let’s dance!
Copyright J.Lennick 2016 All rights reserved.
Bowie photographed for the Aladdin Sane album by Brain Duffy in 1973