As I sit and write this in between teaching drum lessons, I am realizing it’s going to be impossible to find music in our modern era that isn’t influenced by David Bowie, who passed away at the age 69 on Monday. Going through my standard teaching playlist, which features the likes of Prince, Weezer, and Nirvana, it’s obvious that we lost not just a singer in Bowie, but an integral part of music’s bloodline.
David Bowie was a true artist. The kind of man that could and did take on many faces until the day he died. I urge anyone reading this to use the next several days to explore the many faces of Bowie. Let them leave you crushed, use them to celebrate his life, allow them to inspire you to create and explore every bit of yourself to the fullest as he did.
That’s the magic of David Bowie. Everyone has some element of him in them. Man or woman. Musician or businessman. Magician or astronaut. This rang true on nearly every piece of music he released since his 1967 debut. He created a different sound for each record, making the concept of change and progress part of his signature.
I recently had a conversation with a trumpet player about Miles Davis and the jazz legend’s ability to only create that which was in front of him, moving on once a recording happened. Bowie was similar in that way, not only changing with the times, but changing the times themselves. Just look at the arc from Ziggy Stardust to Blackstar. It’s an incredible journey through a life of personalities and experimentation, always looking forward, exploring everything from rock & roll and psyche to funk and soul.
The sheer volume of content released during Bowie’s career is unprecedented. Between 1967 and 2003 no more than three years would pass without a new release. Some years brought two offerings from the singer. After 2003 it would be a decade before the release of The Next Day, and then this year brought Blackstar.
Bowie took the idea of the concept album to new heights. Pink Floyd was one of the original masters of the idea, but Bowie became his releases. He was so deeply immersed in what he created that it changed who he was during the creative process. He took this even further as characters in theater and film, including a stage play based on a character from a song on his most recent album, “Lazarus.” And who over the age of 30 could possibly forget the Goblin King in Labyrinth?
Each character reflected some version of Bowie. Whether that be a man, a woman, a space traveler, or a rock god. The idea of androgyny became more clearly defined and accepted after Bowie came along. With Bowie’s lack of distinct gender mannerisms or identity, a world that had been gross and unwelcome to the public eye was seen in a new light. He made it more acceptable to be who and what you are, regardless of desires or orientation.
Bowie’s death was a perfect way to end his legendary life. After being diagnosed with cancer less than two years prior, Bowie set out to record one last album. Released on his 69th birthday, Blackstar seems to clearly define the pain, struggle, and wonder of someone of his stature seeking closure. There are beautiful and sad moments throughout the record. Upon first listen it’s touching. The second time through it’s heartbreaking.
It really is one of the most amazing ways to leave this world. Release an album that pushes the limits of your sound and modern music, do it on your birthday, and leave without anything left unsaid. No long, unnecessary goodbyes. Just art. The reality is that we lost one of the most important figures in music. Period. The legend and the mystery live on in an incredible body of work containing the soul of a true artist. Thank you, David Bowie.