Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie: Rebel Rebel-- January 8, 1947-January 11, 2016


-by Denise Sullivan

It's been a day of mourning throughout the rock'n'roll nation: David Bowie, 69, died last night. The worldwide outpouring of grief transcends racial, gender and sexual orientation, economic, and national boundaries, just as the Brixton-born artist's music did. The last thing any of us need are more words or further analysis of an already well-documented life and depth of the art. His creative expression of rebellion will ring in the hearts of anyone with their mind set on freedom for generations to come.

Starting out as David Jones, his musical debut as David Bowie came in 1967 to little fanfare though the 1971 UK issue of The Man Who Sold the World, turned some heads (he was pictured wearing a dress).

Here in the U.S., the album Hunky Dory, also released in 1971 and featuring his breakthrough "Changes" (and b-side to the single, "Andy Warhol," about his great inspirer), introduced him to the new generation of image-conscious iconoclasts. As he ushered in the glam era with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, then put it to rest with Diamond Dogs, a political concept record loosely based on Orwell's 1984, he made a deep impression on this then-young Yank (I thought of "The Jean Genie" upon learning of his death in the middle of the night. Back in the '80s, Howie explained to me the title was a play on Jean Genet, rebel artist of his day, opening a door toward further exploration. Please note the South of Market San Francisco location and the Mars Hotel in this video clip).

With 1975's Young Americans, Bowie began the practice of reinvention. Before it became a marketing thing for people like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, dropping an image and adopting a new persona was more revolutionary and rare in rock (rooted as it was in conceptual art, theater, and Hollywood). As a blue-eyed soulman, Bowie went on to belong to a handful of white artists whose funk crossed over and was accepted on the R&B scene.

As one who did most of her David Bowie listening in the '70s and '80s, I'm most partial to this period. Station to Station is my favorite album, the closing time theme at the record store where I lied about my age to get a job. It isn't warm work, though Bowie was never any one thing at one time. While cultivating his dispassion, zonked out of his mind on coke, and caught up in a horrific Nazi incident, he was also preparing for his musical apotheosis (the Berlin trilogy) and forging odd alliances with the squarest of the square. These weird juxtapositions paradoxically increased his appeal to an ever-broader audience.

Time away to get it together, an epic Saturday Night Live appearance, and the inevitable self-reflective return to form came with Scary Monsters, followed by the Let's Dance record (its title song with a video depicting a message about racial tolerance), and the music's global impact.

This is mostly where I left Bowie behind: I have nothing sensible to say about his departure into other areas of life, his movie career, the Tin Machine recordings, his personal life, recovery from substance abuse, humanitarian work, or attempts at a stand-up comedy career. I loved "Blue Jean." I stood at attention for his tribute to Freddie Mercury and his bended-knee recitation of The Lord's Prayer in front of millions of viewers worldwide. I did not follow his later period career except to check in with each single and album release, the accolades, the integrity of the art, the Tilda Swinton clip. I know he was loved and cherished by millions but mostly by his wife, Iman Abdulmajid, their daughter, Alexandria Jones, and his grown son, Duncan Jones.

His final album Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday last Friday reportedly tells the story of his pending death which in life, he chose to play close to the vest, as if playing the Bette Davis character in Dark Victory. The full story was however, worked through his art.

David Bowie, artist, musician, romantic, rebel, iconoclast, duke, gentleman, rock star, husband, father, gender bending cancer patient, was not only whatever we needed him to be, he was everything we needed him to be. His music revealed that despite life's uncertainties and disappointments, there is love among the ruins, beauty in dystopia and truth in creative and imaginary acts. Earlier today, the hip hop artist Common Tweeted, "David Bowie is still 1 of the best 2 EVER do it! His art transcended color & $ boundaries. May God bless his soul." I also saw the following quote for which I could find no verification or context, though again, it think says in a few lines why he so touched the rock 'n' roll rabble: "It's not the politicians who will end oppression. It's the radicals, with the stink in their clothes, rebellion in their brain, hope in their heart and direct action in their fist."

These words are a good and apt articulation of why he spoke to the rock hoards, though in the sound and vision depicted in this clip of "Heroes" David Bowie, is at his finest. Forever (and just for one day).



At 10:28 PM, Blogger Daro said...

It's a measure of the man's greatness that the average outpouring for a Rock Star eulogy has been dwarfed not only in number but also in quality, diversity of source and genuine emotion. Don't recall many rappers mourning Lemme's exit.

Looks like Macca will bury us all.

At 11:07 PM, Blogger ajohnstone said...

I posted the same quote which i first read here

And having been asked the source i cannot find it by googling so it may well not be a genuine quote

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great recap of his life. I always enjoyed his music when I was young but had an ex 20 years ago who felt betrayed by him. That always influenced the way I felt and your writing helped me to reconcile the two.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Denise said...

Comments: Sweet! Thank you, all.

At 6:35 PM, Blogger Miss Lisa said...

Thank you, Denise--so it was, so it will be. A special person has left the planet. He gave us so much.


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