I believe that even David Bowie, that master of disguises and surprises, would be taken aback by the global outpouring of love, sorrow, and remembrance that flowed this past week as news spread of his succumbing to cancer last Sunday — a mere two days after the artist had marked his 69th birthday by releasing what would be his final album, “Blackstar.”
The fact that we had no idea whatsoever (he had kept his illness secret from all but a few friends and family), and that he had been receiving some of his best reviews in years for the vital new work — made the sudden news of his demise all the more jolting, shocking even. Wait, Ziggy dead and gone? How could that be? How is that even possible? Starmen, aliens, and vampires (Bowie played one in the 1983 film, “The Hunger”) don’t die. Even Major Tom lives forever, floating in space.
Though we were loathe to believe it, Bowie wasn’t a bloodless strangeling who fell to earth. He was, alas, an ambitious Brixton, England-born artist and yes, a magically charismatic, consummate entertainer, but made of mortal flesh and blood like the rest of us. So, like many journalists, critics, fans, musicians, bloggers, and cultural critics around the world, I scrambled to put together a proper tribute of my own to this multi-dimensional musical icon and innovator, all the while listening to — no, devouring is the more accurate verb — as much Bowie as possible. Morning till night, I streamed music online while at my desktop, popped in CDs while I cooked dinner, but most pleasingly and meaningfully, I pulled LPs from the shelves and spun the vinyl, which is how and where I first heard him decades ago.
A funny thing happened on the way to writing what I hoped would be a concise introductory preamble to an older piece I had in the can about Bowie. As a self-imposed Monday deadline (when I first published my post here) turned to Tuesday and then to Wednesday and beyond, I felt compelled to keep writing and refining and remembering and adding (but rarely subtracting) to the history and narrative of Bowie’s life and work.
It’s a severe understatement to say that Bowie is an endlessly rich and equally fascinating subject to contemplate. Beginning with that name: Bowie. Like several (but not many) iconic musicians who came before him or were contemporaries, that adopted last name (much more of a ring to it than “Jones” don’t you think?) was a memorable moniker that you heard in your head before you even spoke it. Much in the same way that Miles, Elvis, Aretha, Dylan, Lennon, Mick, Jimi, Bruce, Prince, and Madonna telepathically triggers an instant association, so does that particular arrangement of vowel-heavy letters in Bowie conjure an identity, a personae, an attitude, a style (or many of them) — even, for some of us, a way of looking at the world.
So anyway, yes, a subject rich for reflection. All of this is to say that as I wrote and listened to that marvelously diverse body of work, the substance of my original introduction expanded and transformed into something that now feels fitting. My quick plug is that the new, revised, and final (I think) version of my post is now up at the homepage in all its fully orange-maned, lightning bolted glory. So by all means, feel free to visit (or re-visit) the piece and share it with the Bowie fans, friends, or fiends in your life if you’re so inclined.
Now, back to where and how I first heard David Bowie. Below is a sequel of sorts to this week’s tribute; a gallery of some of the music that’s been a soundtrack to my waking hours at “RPM” headquarters: albums both official and unofficial, original LPs, reissues, rarities, even the odd piece of historical ephemera that tumbled out of a couple inside jackets that I had forgotten about (much like that Tin Machine record).
Given how splendid so much of David’s cover art was, I may add more pictures as I find them — I know I have my promo copy of “Pin-Ups” somewhere here in the vaults — but in the meantime, here are a few of my favorite visuals to go with all that sound. Enjoy, you rock and rollers.