Slowly coming to conciousness to the news that David Bowie has passed away is definitely not the best way to start the day. In a day and age that everyone and their pet shagapoo gets called a genius, Bowie was a reminder that in the great, nearly empty safari park of old rockers there still lived some true, genuine, proper 100% geniuses1.
Bowie was one of those stars who was just there when I was growing up. A strange, alien presence in and amongst the white sliced loaf of mainstream music. The first time he really struck me was in the video for “Ashes To Ashes” – the padded cell, the procession in front of the bulldozer, his “mother” talking to him on the beach. For an eight year old, it was frankly quite creepy. But it most definitely was not what normal rock stars did, more than a decade into their careers.
For whatever reason though, I never went out of my way to listen to his music. Sure, it was always around; always a welcome presence on late-night radio during one dead-end warehouse nightshift job2. It’s only recently that I’ve started to listen to his old albums properly (the Five Years Boxset being key here) with Blackstar next on the list.
Musicians today could do with taking a leaf, or a thousand, from his book. Be different. Be ambiguous. Re-invent yourself. Look to the margins. Don’t do what everyone tells you to do. Be who you want to be.
And you can’t ever forget what impact he had on culture as a whole. His ethos of reinvention, of difference, of ambiguity, spoke to millions of people growing up in villages, towns and cities, who themselves felt different; who wanted to reinvent, who wanted to be ambiguous. After Bowie, it was ok to be who you wanted to be, not what people said you were. That changed people’s lives, much for the better. The world would be a much worse place without him.
1 I’m looking at you, Bob.
2 Roy Orbison being another.