I came to the Bowie party relatively late. I’d known “Let’s Dance” for years, and had seen Labyrinth, and laughed heartily at the Flight of the Conchords episode, “Bowie”.
However, it’s only in the past two years or so that I began to appreciate David Bowie’s genius. Sure, the man wasn’t an amazing singer, but he wrote brilliant and appealing lyrics for catchy and innovative music.
Space Oddity, his first LP, is a truly strange collection of avant garde late sixties sounds which is still accessible and enjoyable today. It lacks the self indulgence that tars much of that era’s psychedelia, which more broadly is a hallmark of much of Bowie’s work and a sign of his modesty.
A musical chameleon, David Bowie would go on to release 28 studio albums, each one different from the last. The ethereal, mysterious synth of “Ashes To Ashes”, and appropriately titled dancefloor favourite “Let’s Dance” both display Bowie’s ability to move with contemporary trends, and at times even lead them. 2013’s The Next Day proved he hadn’t lost a step, and 2015’s Blackstar, released on Bowie’s 69th birthday just two days ago, is being hailed as another triumph.
His forays into acting were limited but always well received. Bowie would infuse his characters with his own quiet, thoughtful reservation, which was especially intriguing in his turn as Nicola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. He’s easily the best thing about the otherwise appalling navel-gazing sci-fi filmcrime, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and his brief appearance with Tom Conti in the Japanese wartime prison camp drama Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence was again one of the best parts of the film.
Bowie’s different stage personae represent a dedication to his work; almost a method acting approach. As his excess and bizarreness gave way to a more simple, restrained, and earnest way of behaviour, he would often be the harshest critic of his strange escapades during the 1960s and 1970s. Later in life he became an intensely private man, seldom giving interviews except around his latest releases. It is this that led to a widespread reaction of sad surprise to the news Bowie had been battling aggressive cancer for the past 18 months.
He inspired countless musicians, and countless jokes, but it’s clear that his music has touched many generations in a profoundly positive way. That I will now never get the chance to see him perform live will be a regret of mine. Like the loss of Sir Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee in 2015, it comes as a shock as these were people you just always expected to be around. The musical world is worse off for the loss of David Bowie.
David Bowie died on January 10, 2016. He was 69.