Rock's most celebrated chameleon, David Bowie, is dead at 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer. Born on January 8, 1947 in Brixton, London, England, Bowie left one of the most indelible stamps on rock history as he traversed through a variety of personas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke. Rather than rehash the same biographical information which can be found at any news outlet, I'll reflect on how this musician has heavily shaped my personal tastes.
According to music-map.com, some of Bowie’s closest musical relatives are contemporaries like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and their bands Velvet Underground and The Stooges respectively. However, Bowie’s reach in shaping the music of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s shows up quickly with the who’s who list of punk and alternative rock bands like Roxy Music, The Ramones, The Clash, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and The Pixies.
I didn’t “discover” David Bowie until the early ‘80s. I was in high school when “Let’s Dance” hit #1 and presented Bowie as another pop icon who looked good on MTV. I didn’t think that song was all that special, but still enjoyed it and most of the top 40 hits that followed that decade, including “China Girl”, “Modern Love”, “Blue Jean”, his cover of “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger, “”Day-In, Day-Out”, and “Never Let Me Down”.
As I’ve often argued, though, sometimes it’s the most commercial and least-interesting stuff from an artist’s catalog which proves to be the springboard for discovering that artist at his or her best. I moved from Bowie’s ‘80s pop output to classic rock staples like “Changes”, “Fame”, “Space Oddity”, “Rebel Rebel”, “Ziggy Stardust”, “The Jean Genie”, “Young Americans”, and “Golden Years”. Eventually, though, I dipped further into Bowie’s '70s albums and became enthralled with the man who perpetually reinvented his musical identity, working his way through roles as diverse as British folk troubadour, alien rocker, robotic soul singer, and German electronica maven.
Now I can proudly boast to owning all of Bowie’s official studio releases (25+) as well as a slew of live albums and other rarities. I seem to be one of the few who loved his late ‘80s/early ‘90s foray into noise rock with Tin Machine and I thought his 1995 Outside album deserved to be touted as one of those albums which ranked up there with Nine Inch Nails for shaping industrial rock.
Like many Bowie fans, I mourn a world where one can never again say, "Have you heard the new Bowie album?" R.I.P. to rock's greatest chameleon.
Resources and Related Links:
- David Bowie’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- Also on the DMDB Blog: David Bowie’s Career Takes Off – Thanks to Men Landing on the Moon: July 20, 1969
- On the DMDB Facebook page: The Top 65 Songs of David Bowie