Ziggy Stardust. Halloween Jack. The Thin White Duke. Thomas Jerome Newton. Aladdin Sane. Major Jack Celliers. The Cracked Actor. The Elephant Man. The Goblin King. These are just some of the many faces of David Bowie. Bowie was a chameleon of an artist – always changing his looks, his musical style and his outlook on life.
I was awoken on Monday morning January 11th 2016 by a text from my youngest son telling me that David Bowie had taken his Final Taxi because of cancer. He knew what Bowie’s music meant to me. How the music Bowie made took me through difficult times – growing up an oddball in a small Southern town to surviving heart surgery. It seemed like whenever I felt like an alien, David Bowie understood and had already put the feeling into words.
Being a pre- teen in the early 1970’s I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the 60’s hippy movement and punk rock scene of the late 70’s. David Bowie was making rock music that was mainstream enough to get airplay but strange enough to be interesting.
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in London in 1947. He changed his name to Bowie as to not to be confused with The Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones. The first song I remember hearing on early FM radio was Bowie’s “Space Oddity” which introduced the recurring character Major Tom. It was his striking androgynous looks as well as the music from “Ziggy Stardust” that launched Bowie as leader of the early 1970s glam rock era. The stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Fame,” co-written with The Beatles’ John Lennon. Other collaborators included Freddie Mercury, Marc Bolan, Brian Eno, Trent Reznor and Pat Methany but his closest partner in music would have to be Iggy Pop. Together Pop and Bowie molded a new direction for each other as well as helping each other out of their respective drug addictions.
Bowie had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the “Let’s Dance,” an LP that took the world by storm with pop hits and MTV music videos. My wife, Lesa, worked at Captial records at the time and she recalls the huge promotion campaign for the record.
I also loved David Bowie as an actor. I could not wait to see “The Man Who Feel To Earth” when it was released. I don’t know how I did it but I got in to see it even though it was rated “X” and I was 15. (This film is very tame by today’s standard and was X because of pubic hair being seen.) In it Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien trapped on Earth trying to get home to his family. This spoke to those of us who felt like we were all aliens too, in a world of Legionnaires’ disease ,Tomahawk cruise missiles and Gerald Ford politics.
The ‘cracked actor’ emerged again in several films including ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ playing Major Jack ‘Strafer’ Celliers and as the goth vampire John Blaylock in ‘The Hunger,’ both from 1983. It was 1986’s Labyrinth that struck a chord with most people as Bowie was both actor and singer in the family musical. Playing Jareth- The Goblin King Bowie wrote and sang most of the music for the film.
He also had film roles including historical figures Nicolas Testla, Andy Warhol and Pontius Pilate.
Returning to music it is fitting that David Bowie’s last single, Lazarus, was a ‘parting gift’ for fans – a skillfully craftedfinale. The producer of his new CD Blackstar confirms David Bowie had planned his poignant final message, with videos and lyrics show how he approached his death- as a work of art.
As a friend of mine posted on Facebook, ” Rock and roll used to be for outsiders, rebellion against the mainstream.. he(Bowie) helped embrace alienation. That meant you were more accepting of the different. Rock isn’t like that anymore. It’s heartbreaking. Bowie’s gone and we’ll never see a combination of rebellion, innovation and art like that again...”
David Bowie was 69.
The generation before me asked “Where were you when JFK died?” Will Bowie’s death be as poignant to my generation?
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