How very depressing. Two of rock’s biggest and most singular icons have now left this world within two weeks of each other.
When I posted about Lemmy’s passing, one of my friends made a half-joking jab (at least I think it was only half-joking) about jumping on the death bandwagon. I guess that might have been true for some people who were lamenting Lemmy’s passing, as it will be about Bowie’s. But not in my case.
I guess I’m giving away some hints about my ridiculously advanced age when I say that I bought Hunky Dory the year it was released. And I wore that album out. It was like a revelation to the young me, growing up in central Texas long, long ago. It didn’t take me long to track down Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World. And when Ziggy Stardust was released the next year, I went even crazier over it. I listened to nothing else for the next three months, and that’s no exaggeration.
I have no doubt that at some deep level in my consciousness, those early Bowie albums helped shape my interests in music from those years down to this day (and especially a taste for unorthodox kinds of music, including what I’ve devoted this blog to for the last 6+ years). And the influence went beyond music, too. I was probably already predisposed to seek out the unorthodox in life generally, but Bowie’s music pushed me further down that road.
I continued to be a devoted fan all the way through Heroes. After that, my interest started to wane. The process had begun even before then, with the release of Young Americans, though I had a resurgence of interest in Station To Station. Perhaps significantly due to the course changes in my own musical tastes, I haven’t listened to more than a scattering of Bowie songs since the release of Never Let me Down in 1987. But I’ll never forget the effect his music had on me during an important and formative period of my life. I know I’m far from alone in feeling that way.
Even apart from the music, he was a one-of-a-kind figure in so many ways. I still have vivid memories of watching The Man Who Fell To Earth, Into the Night, and Labyrinth — movies that seemed to shine even more brightly than they would have because of his presence on the screen, whether in large roles or small ones. Here are a few other interesting notes from The Font of All Human Knowledge:
“In 1999, Bowie was made a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music the same year. He declined the royal honour of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000, and turned down a knighthood in 2003. Bowie explained his reluctance, saying: ‘I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.’
“Throughout his career he sold an estimated 140 million albums. In the United Kingdom, he was awarded 9 Platinum, 11 Gold and 8 Silver albums, and in the United States, 5 Platinum and 7 Gold. In the BBC’s 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, he was ranked 29. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 39th on their list of the 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time. Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 17 January 1996 and named a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in June 2013.”
That entire article is worth reading — Bowie’s was indeed an utterly fascinating and amazingly accomplished life. And like Lemmy, he always marched to the beat of his own drummer.
As sad as I am now about yet another death in the ranks of my musical heroes, I’m happy about one thing: From what I’ve heard so far of his last album Blackstar, it seems that he left the world on a high note.
I could spend the rest of the day compiling a playlist of favorite Bowie songs with which to finish this post. But I don’t want to wallow in this sentimental soup in which I now find myself. So I’ve chosen only these, the first ones that popped into my head from just a few of the older albums plus two from the new one.
R.I.P. David Bowie. Born 8 January 1947, died 10 January 2016.