David Bowie (b. David Jones, January 8, 1947) was a singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, painter and actor. He was an icon. He remains that. We throw about words like ‘Legend’ and ‘Icon’ too easily these days. It’s hard to think of just one word to encapsulate Bowie. But we could use the word ‘Artist’ – since that covers his music, acting and aesthetic choices. He was a fashion icon, a hero – as I write this I think about how he had songs called Fashion and Heroes, songs any other artist might wish they’d written, songs you might find down the list of Bowie highlights, because there were so many. His music spans generations – but in particular there was that untouchable period: 1971-1983.
He owned the 1970s. What’s more, in just over a decade he released a dozen classic, critically acclaimed studio albums. He birthed several characters including most famously Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke. He was also the key behind the rebirth of Iggy Pop.
Scratch the surface of any record collection and you’ll find Bowie.
Even if you weren’t a fan of his music – and I’m really not sure how anyone even remotely interested in popular music couldn’t be – there was Bowie the living artwork: a model who was never on the clock and always on the clock, he was Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, he was The Elephant Man on Broadway, he was the backing vocalist on Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love, the co-producer of Reed’s Transformer album.
He moved through genres, trying them on like suits, he always looked, and sounded, fabulous and his name became a shorthand for the type of career-integrity and overall artistic vision most others can only dream about.
Even after his, er Golden Years (it’s as if he knew all along we’d be using the song titles when discussing his Fame) he was a man we were always interested in, a polymath, a legend.
If you had been told a couple of decades ago that David Bowie invented the internet it might have been believable. Words like ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Shapeshifter’ were used. But Bowie was an artist. Always an artist. Whether appearing as Andy Warhol (Basquiat) or launching one of the first big-name interactive sites to give fans direct and immediate access to one of several worlds he lived in, one of several worlds he’d shaped.
Since the mid-90s the rate of music slowed down but he was more exploratory, more relevant and far more hip than any of his peers. And the best of the music stands up, dazzling in its scope sometimes.
In 2004 David Bowie played Wellington’s Westpac Stadium. It rained all day. Spirits too were dampened. There in a raincoat stood the rebellious Bowie, telling the crowd that if they were going to make the effort so was he. The first song? Rebel Rebel. On through a run of hits that showed a man as near to the top of his game as possible at that point.
Shortly after, the long silences. A health scare and a retreat from public life. He returned, when no one expected, with a decent album, one that contained a handful of songs that had the perfect Bowie touch.
And then, just a few days ago, he released what is now his final album. Hype is telling us it’s his best album in two or even three decades. It is not. But it is wonderful. The album, Blackstar, was timed to be released on January 8, David Bowie’s 69th birthday. He had been, again, out of the public eye. A private 18-month battle with cancer.
There is another word that comes to mind when I think of trying to sum up this incredible being – and what a singer; that voice! – it’s class. David Bowie was all class. Always. And now forever.
This was first posted on Stuff.co.nz under the title ‘Iconic David Bowie all class to the very end’.