In an industry known for imitation, David Bowie was a genuine original.
The shock of Bowie’s death stems from the oddness of his not being there. Across generations and fads, David Bowie has been a constant presence in the world of music. Even if he, himself, had been anything but static.
More than anything, Bowie stood for the principle of evolution. Of change born of creative restlessness and sometimes necessity. He didn’t stand still. His style and look, obviously, morphed. His personal life, and how he challenged fans with the fluidity of gender and sexual expression. Even on the business side, he did things other stars couldn’t even conceive. Who else but Bowie could have come up with the idea of selling investment bonds based on his catalogue?
But it’s the music where David Bowie really mattered. Over the past five decades, he’s been in the vanguard of one movement after another. Fans might have lost track of him for a moment or three. But then he’d be there again, enmeshed in a new sound that made perfect sense.
Bowie arose out of the British mod and psychedelic sounds of the ’60s. “Space Oddity” was a groundbreaking rock moment. It paved the way for the glam and art rock movement of the ’70s. Then shifted to the new romantic and new wave currents that swept the late ’70s into the ’80s. Bowie was right at home with the melding of rock and dance that was an ’80s hallmark. But had no problem adapting to the darker currents of ’90s alternative, touching on industrial and artful noise. He settled in (to the extent Bowie could ever have been said to be “settled”) to an electronic/rock niche for his final albums.
Ultimately, his genre was “David Bowie.” Looking back it’s not hard to spot his fingerprints all over a range of styles. They all make sense in the context of his larger career.
He could have gone the route that some of his peers took. He could have churned out slight variations on sounds that had been successful. But Bowie was more challenging.
The arc from “The Man Who Sold the World” to “Fame” to “Let’s Dance” to “I’m Afraid of Americans” may not be obvious. But Bowie’s own journey provides the through-line. His artistic restlessness and evolution. He never abandoned a sound. He just figured out how to push it into the future.
Most people can name a favorite David Bowie song (mine was “Modern Love”). When you take a look back, you realize how omnipresent his music has been over the past several decades. On a variety of radio formats. In movies and television. On the internet and in video games.
That he’s no longer there feels odd. But in another sense, he’s not going anywhere. David Bowie’s music will live on for many years to come. Inspiring future generations to blaze new paths.
It’s an amazing legacy.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on January 11, 2016.