There is music that leaves me carefree, lets me well in tears, makes me want to dance, makes me feel tiny in this universe, makes me feel alone, or like I can rule the world. It’s a fascinating thing, as a lifelong lover of music, to come across music that lets me feel anything, be anything, see or say anything I want. Seldom does a musician like Bowie grace our time and manage to create art that stirs these feelings across generations and generations of earthlings.
Bowie was, in every sense of the word, a legend. Majestic. Other-wordly. Strange. Beautiful. Haunting. His image is unforgettable – whether or not your only image of him is his famous Aladdin Sane cover or as a goblin king, or whether you watched his journey as Ziggy Stardust. He released his 27th studio album, Blackstar (stylised as ★) , two days before his passing on January 10th. He was responsible for launching the careers of countless artists, including Iggy Pop, Luther Vandross, Moby, even Arcade Fire, and collaborated with the likes of Annie Lennox, Bing Crosby, and Mick Jagger. He created the “Bowie Bond”, a financial instrument that basically “rented” out his music to record companies, giving him total control of his music licensing. His influences in the fashion sphere peaked in the 90’s, as he was a muse for countless American, European, and Japanese designers. Apparently, almost no one he worked with recently knew of his cancer diagnosis. And it’s rumoured that Bowie had recorded demoes for an album after Blackstar that was meant to be a parting gift to fans once he realised his time on earth would soon be over. The song ‘Lazarus’, off Blackstar, reflects on themes of life, death, and legacy, interpreted by many as a good-bye. Eerily, he cries “This way or no way/You know, I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Now ain’t that just like me.” He turned his world into art. And everyone that’s had the privilege to step into that crazy world hasn’t come out the same.
I don’t often stop and think about what the music I love might mean to other people. It’s so easy to get lost in your own world, to plug in your headphones and DJ the perfect soundtrack to your life. And when I was assigned to write this tribute to Bowie after his passing, I quickly learned that the Bowie I saw on my TV, my laptop, heard on my speakers, was probably not the one you knew. I scoured to all those indie news outlets and read tons of YouTube comments- tiny vignettes of peoples’ lives told through Bowie songs and lyrics. He’s been a part of all our lives in some small way, and all in different ways. As Chris Roberts from The Quietus ruminates, “…everyone knows a different Bowie, the one they saw in his hall of mirrors, depending on when they came in and from which direction.”
Whether we’ve had the chance to sloppily cover “Under Pressure” at a karaoke bar, blast “Heroes” with the windows down, or scream-sing “Life on Mars?” when life seems a little too weird where you are – Bowie had a message for all of us. Who couldn’t fall in love with a presence as influential and striking as he was? His theme was pure – to stay true to yourself, to realize your life is the only one you’ve got. For people across the world, he heralded visions of space, time, sexuality, fashion, and fantasy not fit for any conventional mold. Those mourning his passing aren’t so affected because they felt like they knew him – it’s because Bowie helped us know a little more about ourselves.