(Warning, there is going to be hyperbole and the history of his music will not be in Bowie’s chronological order).
Like many people my age, my first solid memory of hearing the name David Bowie came in 1994, when I first heard Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York. At the end of “The Man Who Sold the World”, Cobain mumbles “That was a David Bowie song”.
Not terribly long after that, as I was digging through my parent’s old records, I discovered that one of them owned the LP of the album by the same name. It now sits in my collection. After Nirvana’s covering him, his stock started to rise again. Around that same time, I first saw a performance of “A Space Oddity”, Bowie’s single from 1969.
As a budding music gormandizer (thank you CBGB & OMFUG), I instantly took to how visceral the lyrics were, how lonely it sounded, and how exactly the portrayal of being utterly alone came across in the song.
My next major experience with Bowie came when Trent Reznor appeared on a song titled “I’m Afraid of Americans” from Bowie’s Earthling album. The song received major radio and television airplay in 1997.
By then, I needed to know more. I delved into Bowie’s back catalog and came up with “Rebel Rebel”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Changes”, “Heroes” and “Ziggy Stardust”. Oh god, Ziggy Stardust.
The album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has become one of my 100 favorite albums, mostly based upon the killer tracks “Five Years”, “Rock & Roll Suicide” “Starman” and “Ziggy Stardust”, but the entire album works as a piece of musical art. I knew I was sold on all that was David Bowie.
As a kid, I knew of the Queen song “Under Pressure”, but I’m pretty sure I had never connected that fact that it was released with Mr. Bowie as a joint song (not Queen f. David Bowie, but Queen & David Bowie). That two British artists, both at the top of their games could set aside any claim to supremacy and release something as utterly bombastic as “Under Pressure” together was eye-opening. Sure, it’s happened other times since then, but I was instantly enamored.
This brings me, relatively speaking to the 21st century. In late 2001, David Bowie opened the Concert for New York City with his own take on Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”. I wish I could have found the video footage from that concert, but this montage will have to do.
In 2006, Bowie retired from touring; his late 2006 performance of “Changes” with Alicia Keys marks his last time performing on stage.
Afterward, Bowie announced his retirement from recording music. Said retirement lasted until dropping a surprise announcement of a new album on his 66th birthday in 2013, titled The Next Day.
Just this past weekend saw the release of Blackstar, his second post-retirement album, which was released in celebration of his 69th birthday. Fittingly, the second single from the album, “Lazarus” features the opening line “Look up here, I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”.
When it was announced late last night (west coast time) that David Bowie had passed away at age 69 from cancer, one of the first things I thought was, “I don’t remember hearing that he had had cancer”. Turns out, I was right. Bowie, in his final acts of privacy and contrition, decided to not disclose to the public the fact that he had cancer, AND to pen a song he knew would be his last statement to the world.
The outpouring across the internet, across musical genres, has been astounding today. A Rolling Stone article shows artist as disparate as Paul McCartney, Cher, Laura Jane Grace, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and “Weird Al” Yankovic have all expressed their emotions over the news of David Bowie’s passing.
Farewell, the man who fell to Earth. The sky looked very different today. The circuit was dead, there was definitely something wrong.