David Bowie would have turned 75 on January 8, an opportunity like any other to tell the indelible mark he left on our understanding of creative role-playing.
In #TheMusicThatMadeUs, senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri talks about the impact musicians and their art have on our lives, how they are shaping the industry by rewriting its rules and how they make us the people we become: their greatest heritage.
Critics frequently cite David Bowie‘s bookChanges’ (from the album Hunky-dory, 1971) as a hymn that sums up the spirit of the musician, published as he was in the early stages of his five-decade career. It was the album – they say – that saw Bowie become THE David Bowie, a prescient artist with a propensity for constant improvement.
There is a deeply expressive line in the song that says:
“… and those children you spit on
As they try to change their world
Are safe from your consultations.“
While the lines refer to parents who find fault with their children’s efforts, this is really true for so many sections of society who are marginalized for trying to be immune from a state of mind. with a cookie cutter. If there has ever been a musical messiah for the marginalized or excluded from mainstream society, it is David Bowie.
He was among the first to openly denounce MTV for racism against black performers, and controversially announced his bisexuality in the 1970s at a time when homosexuality was more or less accepted in cautious America. He often turned to themes of social alienation and aberration through songs like ‘Life on Mars?, ”rebel rebel,’ and even ‘Changes, ‘to provoke and to include, rather than to conform and to exclude.
Spanning half a century, Bowie’s has been a career that has exemplified reinvention as this accomplished cultural disruptor has constantly challenged and transformed the status quo of rock and pop music. He would have turned 75 on January 8, an opportunity like any other to tell the indelible imprint he left on our understanding of creative role-playing.
His birthday is celebrated through a mega live concert hosted by longtime pianist Mike Garson, featuring many of Bowie’s band members over the years, and with guest appearances by Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Simon Le Good from Duran Duran and John Taylor, Living Color, Rob Thomas, Walk the Moon, Jake Wesley Rogers, Gail Ann Dorsey, Bernard Fowler, Judith Hill, Gaby Moreno, Gretchen Parlato, Joe Sumner Gary Oldman and Ricky Gervais. Garson, who hosted a similar event last year, was instrumental in rallying artists to pay tribute to a man seen equally as a maverick and a duke.
Everything about Bowie is a dichotomy. It’s been sleek and garish, sleek and shocking, low-key and outrageous, depending on who you ask.
As with world history, Bowie’s career can be categorized by the different phases he went through – from his early influences in jazz and glam rock, plastic and industrial soul, to electronica and pure pop. It’s so hard to categorize him into just one genre because Bowie himself has gone to great lengths throughout his career to make sure he’s hard to characterize.
Seriously, how dare we try to rule his work by the laws of rock and roll when there are intergalactic influences and creations at play here? Bowie has created alter egos like Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke, and dabbled in acting, painting, and fashion, which makes it very difficult to define him as anything other than l most evolving and transformative avant-garde artist of our time. Time itself has been manipulated and challenged because it has consistently shown us that age or a generation is just a state of mind. His signature vibrato is instantly recognizable, as is his extraordinary ability to achieve such a rich timbre even in the lower end of his vocal range.
If his dramatic octave shifts helped him find more power in his singing, then his role-playing through songwriting, directing, and fashion choices helped build his legend of l ‘iconoclasm. Add to that his penchant for androgyny at the height of his career, and we understand how much he feared becoming “routine”. Although he was hardly a champion of queer groups, Bowie used sexual intrigue in his songwriting and his sense of style to generate shock value early on, and ultimately deeper social conversations.
During his lifetime, his record sales, estimated at over 100 million records worldwide, made Bowie one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. The British artist received 10 platinum, 11 gold and eight silver album certifications in the UK, having released 11 No.1 albums.
The fact that Bowie is a perpetual evolution also means he’s been a very polarizing oddity. It’s hard to find a fan who has embraced all of their avatars and gender changes alike. We see ourselves in the music that resonates with us, so identifying with Bowie has usually meant identifying with one or two of his versions. Not like it ever mattered to him.
He always wanted to be the master of the story of his life; something close to his heart even at the time of his death. Those who work on ‘Lazarus – musical sound upgrade The man who fell to earth – had no idea the legend had been battling cancer for over a year. In a short statement two days after the heartbreaking black came out Black Star, it was confirmed that Bowie did indeed die after an 18-month private battle with liver cancer.
In death as in life, Bowie made sure his terms were honored. He lived with a creative urgency that was as timeless as it was controversial, but it often seemed like he didn’t care. As he wrote poetically in ‘Changes, ‘”Time can change me / But I can’t retrace time.“
Senior journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri has spent a good part of two decades chronicling the arts, culture and lifestyles.