Yesterday I drafted my review of Blackstar, the latest album from David Bowie. Early press called it his “experimental” record. I didn’t think it was, or at least it wasn’t as experimental as the term implies. Sure, it’s different, with a warmer sound, strongly reliant on wind and horns. Sure, it was cryptic as hell. But I thought it was satisfying nonetheless.
The last track on the record is called “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, and it seemed to sum up the mystique of Bowie. I thought it was a fitting end to an album that confounded expectations.
Today, we learn that David Bowie has passed away. He was battling cancer for the past eighteen months, according to his representatives – well into the production of Blackstar. To the end, he was doing the one thing he loved the most, the one thing he devoted most of his life to.
I won’t pretend to be a big Bowie fan. There’s no point. I’m reasonably late to him; I was well into my sophomore year in college when I first fully heard one of his songs. It was the 18th birthday of my friend Jenn; our common friend (and my college blockmate), Jason, took to the stage to sing “Starman”. Not a song you’d usually associate with an event where the girl becomes a woman, so that naturally stuck out. And I liked it, so I looked it up, and found myself in the middle of an early YouTube sidebar surfing session.
Almost ten years later, I’m still in the middle of the session. Sure, I was sidetracked multiple times, and for prolonged periods of time. In those ten years I discovered acts new and old, scenes ancient and emerging; I attempted to immerse myself in these things to varied success. But I noticed that those adventures would, in one way or another, always return to Bowie, to how his (sound and) vision have, in one way or another, inspired the musicians I now listen to. So I would read up, just a little bit – about his Ziggy Stardust stage, about the Berlin trilogy, about his foray into soul with Young Americans, about how he continues to put his stamp on things when he’s the one following the trends instead. I would hear people talk about his influence – and not just musicians, but also comedians, artists, intellectuals, the lot.
The common theme goes along the lines of how David made it okay for misfits to be themselves, to just work at it, and maybe you can gain acceptance, not just for your work but for who you are – or who you choose to be, as his career illustrates. It doesn’t matter if you’re really a misfit, or just pretending to be one to look cool. It’s okay. It’s okay.
I won’t pretend to be a big Bowie fan.
All I know, from having a reasonably good idea of his work throughout the past five decades, is that he’s always been there. His name will always come up. Nobody really knows much about him – I mean, his life wasn’t an open book, and he successfully kept it that way – but his name will always come up. It’s most evident, at least to me, in the months leading to the release of his penultimate album, The Next Day – all the retrospectives, all the tributes, and that little bit he did for Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”.
Yet I am not yet done perusing his oeuvre. And I never will be, because people will always cite David as an inspiration in one way or another. And I’ll jump around YouTube most nights and it will always lead me back to him.
He will still be there. He will always be there. God bless him. [NB]
David Robert Jones; born 8 January 1947, died 10 January 2016.