By: Gwynn Van Houten
January 10th marked a particularly fascinating man’s final day on Earth. He had a great many aliases and monikers — Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, Starman — and possessed a sense of style and presentation that was as fluid as it was both eccentric and innovative. In one way or another, we are all familiar with him — his entrancing lyrics, his unforgettable outfits, his appearances in beloved films and shows, his impact on independant thinkers of all ages.
Indeed, legendary rock star David Bowie has passed away at the age of 69. For the past 18 months, he had fought a brave and secretive battle with liver cancer. He was accompanied by his family at the time of his death in New York City.
Bowie’s nearly 50-year career was far from dull. First off, the Brit did not use his real name, David Jones, on stage, thinking it too close to “Davy Jones” (of The Monkees). Instead, he adopted the name of the creator of the Bowie knife. His first hit, “Space Oddity”, or the tale of the fictional astronaut Major Tom, was an instant sensation, soon becoming the UK’s first Top 5 hit amid the hype of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Bowie solidified his role as an icon of sci-fi and glam rock when he then “transformed” into the androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust, whose “life” was short but quickly memorable due to his flamboyant style and performances, and remains practically synonymous with David Bowie’s name to this day.
In the mid- to late 70’s, he took on a more “normal” persona, The Thin White Duke, and recorded fan favorite album Station to Station. However, the “Duke” was prone to making controversial statements in the press. Bowie would later attribute some of his more questionable actions to drug abuse, and has since apologized. After this phase, he moved to Berlin to record three new albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger. In the 80’s, he produced Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and collaborated with Queen for the hit Under Pressure. His work since includes Black Tie, White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack, and The Next Day — to name only a few. Bowie has released nearly 30 studio albums alone, and each one is worth your time.
Bowie’s evolution of style.
Under his belt is a noteworthy acting career, as well. One may recognize him as Jareth the Goblin King from the 1986 film Labyrinth, a manipulative and seductive fae. Bowie also starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth as a humanoid alien, a vampire love interest in The Hunger, and as the ghostly Phillip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Perhaps one of his most unusual roles was as the self-parodying Lord Royal Highness in SpongeBob SquarePants.
David Bowie’s last album, ★ (Blackstar), was released on January 8th of this year, the day of his 69th birthday and two days before his death. This release is not only notable for its chilling ambient and jazzy undertones, and for its poetic lyrics that are among Bowie’s trademarks, but for not being a “coincidence”. Bowie recorded the album as he battled cancer, knowing it to be terminal, and it has been confirmed by producer Tony Visconti that it is a “parting gift” to his fans. The lyrics, which deal largely with mortality, make this clear now, including (but not limited to) the opening verse of Lazarus:
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
The music video for Lazarus seems to depict Bowie’s struggle with illness, as he lies bandaged on a hospital bed, haunted by a shadowy figure, presumably Death. He reflects upon his life and of his approaching fate (Oh I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird) before closing the door — literally and metaphorically.
As such, David Bowie left us in the same way he lived: dramatically.
The “Starman” has certainly left an incredible impact on modern culture, and is in fact cited by some as the most influential musician of the century. You may be surprised by the number of bands and artists we wouldn’t have without him, whether it be for his lyrics, style, theatricality, or the very confidence he had in simply being himself: The Smiths, U2, Boy George, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, and many more have been inspired by Bowie’s work.
He has also been a beacon for LGBT people who have feared expressing themselves. Although he later corrected himself after claiming in a 1976 interview that he was bisexual, stating that he never really had an actual interest in men, Bowie’s personas blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity in a way that had once been considered taboo. He was attracted to and supportive of the English gay culture, even while it was still underground, and while perhaps not gay or bi himself may be considered an important figure in the gradual acceptance of queer culture.
David Bowie survives in the memories of his millions of fans, and especially in those of his loving wife, supermodel Iman, and his two children, Duncan (director of Moon) and Alexandria Jones. Hopefully, his soul is out there among the cosmos, just like Major Tom himself.