I don’t imagine anyone capable of reading these words hasn’t already heard that the musical legend David Bowie is no longer with us. There’s not much I can add to the seemingly endless stream of articles and posts bidding farewell, but I felt moved to ruminate on what his passing meant to me personally.
I never counted myself among the more zealous Bowie fans. Don’t get me wrong… like pretty much everyone else of my generation, I listened to most of his Top-40 hits and several even grew on me after a while (Space Oddity being the one I remember most fondly). But there is no doubt in my mind that David Bowie was a key thread in the colorful tapestry that became not only the backdrop but part of the very foundation of the popular music scene throughout the 70s and 80s. Looking over some of the public statments issued by artists whose music I enjoyed even more than Bowie’s, it became obvious how much of an influence he had on the course of musical evolution and, ultimately, on my own taste in music… regardless of whether I was or was not a Bowie fan, per-se.
One of the signs of getting older is when the artists you listened to as a teen or young adult, artists whom you always assumed would be around forever, start disappearing before your very eyes (or ears). It starts with artists your parents listened to and you’ve only vaguely heard of. Then it’s artists you’ve listened to on occasion but that you were suprised to learn were still around. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough, you get to experience the demise of artists you always considered part of your own generation. By then, I suspect, most of us have become accustomed to someone famous passing on from time-to-time. In fact, it almost seems like the rate accellerates as we get older (although that’s probably just because we’re familiar with a larger percentage of them). However, there are still a few deaths that almost force you to take a step back and contemplate your own mortality. The death of Michael Jackson was, for me, one such event and now… zealous fan or not… I feel the same effect from David Bowie’s recent departure. The world today simply isn’t the same world in which I was living last week. There’s been a disturbance in the Force.
At the risk of over-analyzing things, I would say that the difference stems from the fact that Bowie wasn’t just another artist. In many ways he pushed the envelope of what pop music could be… in much the same way that Michael pushed the envelope of how a pop musician should behave. The music was almost secondary to the personality behind the music. It’s the personalities that we seem to remember most vividly. Deep inside, we know it was David behind the characters all along but, in our memories, it’s Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom that stand out. In many ways David Bowie was bigger than life… and that immensity came through clearly in his music.
I suspect that, like many great artists before, Bowie’s music will become even more appreciated now that he’s gone. At the very least, many of us will be re-playing the old hits as we contemplate the onward march of time and come to terms with the fact that nothing lasts forever, including musical legends. If there’s any silver lining in this particular cloud, perhaps it’s the fact that we grew up in an age of high-fidelity recording and digital enhancement. Just this morning I woke to a re-play of a taped interview with David Bowie on NPR and the very first song they played was a re-mastered version of the title track from Ziggy Stardust. We may not be able to keep our favorite artists around forever (and, for their sake, that’s probably a good thing). But we can certainly keep their work alive.
Farewell, Ziggy… you’ve made a lasting impression on musical history and your fans thank you from the bottom of their hearts.