The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.
While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.
And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.
Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.
In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.
That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).
It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).
From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.
After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.
With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.
I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.
One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.
David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.
David Bowie 1947 – 2016