What i find so wonderful about Bowie is how he has transcended generations without ever getting into a rut. I may be from the third generation where Bowie mattered. In my childhood he was a well-dressed old guy who sung dad pop. But he also was the strange ethereal man who presented The Snowman, and the charismatic and striking baddie from The Labyrinth. And then i forgot about him for a while.
Later, as a teenager, i was totally into Trent Reznor, and was puzzled that on tour he was opening for that weird old silver-haired gentleman from my youth. But then that weird old silver-haired gentleman put out a wild concept album with walls of guitars, and although it felt a bit like NIN-lite, i was surprised by its ambition and curious how someone from the “pop” world seemed to be so switched on about modern electronic music. I read a little more, and it turned out he was a frequent collaborator with the godfather of ambient Brian Eno. I was obsessed with analog synthesizers and electronic music at the time, and i stumbled across a quote about how Bowie had wanted to use a saxophone in a song, but it just didn’t sound fat enough so they went back and recorded it with an ARP instead. Who is this guy and why does he keep popping up in my life? And then, hang on a second, this guy is the same guy who sang that science-fiction classic about Major Tom?
It all started coming together for me. I bought a whole stack of his back catalog, in particular the Ziggy Stardust era. And i got it. I really got it. At exactly the moment in my life i started questioning my gender identity and perhaps also my sexuality, here was this beautiful androgynous creature on the cover of Aladdin Sane. And then i watched Velvet Goldmine, and i really fucking got it. Gangly awkward kid from England metamorphosizes into wild drug-addled sparkling sexual alien of rock’n’roll. And i cried, how i cried to Five Years, and Lady Stardust, and Starman, and i relived all the emotions people my parents’ age did as teenagers.
And then i explored the folksy psychedelic stuff. And then the odd krautrocky stuff. And it all felt timeless, because unlike other pop stars who happily reinvent themselves each era, all his music felt like it was somehow grasping for something beyond the era, a little outside of it. It wasn’t always successful, and when i think about these genres i would never pick a Bowie song as the most memorable, but somehow they all feel thematically strong and avante garde without ever getting pretentious.
I wouldn’t put many of his songs up there as my favorite of all time – come on, i’m still an 80s raver kid whose most profound musical loss up till now has been Frankie Knuckles – but as an artist i don’t know if he will ever be paralleled my lifetime. His impact on me personally, and all of my musical idols is immense. I was shocked when i heard the news. The spaceman is gone. I thought he’d live forever. I made it through the whole week burying myself in work, till on Saturday i collapsed into tears listening to his cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s America. I’m still mourning.
It's true. No artist's death has hit me this hard but Frankie's. The only other people that come to mind i think i would miss this much are John Carpenter and Marc Almond. There are so many artists whose works i love, but very few who i feel touched me so personally. Very few whose impact on me has been able to transcend both the times of deepest heartbreak and highest ecstasy. Very few who have both made sense in the madness, and brought joy during the mundane. So long, starman.