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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie

I suspect many people, like myself, were listening to David Bowie's songs yesterday, and maybe even today. His death Sunday night took everyone by surprise--a collective gasp of humanity--and he was already discussed on social media because it had just been his birthday, number 69. He had just started making new music again, and the loss is like a crater in our souls.

Encomiums are all over the Web, and since I am no expert on music I can only write about what he meant to me. I believe his greatest hits album, Changesonebowie, was the first real rock record I bought that didn't involve The Beatles or their various members. It must have been 1976, when I was 15. I listened to top-40 AM radio, and may have heard of the kind of bands that scared parents but didn't listen to their music. It was when "Fame" and "Golden Years" broke through on the charts that Bowie showed up on my radar.

I remember buying that record, at Dearborn Music, and realizing I was taking a great leap forward. I held the album in my hand and wondered if should I continue. Thankfully, the image of Bowie on the cover was sedate, not like Aladdin Sane, with the lightning bolt on the face. I seem to remember my dad being somewhat taken aback when I arrived home with the record. He was a fan of some contemporary music (like The Beatles) but this was out of his sphere, too.

I loved that album, which had both "Fame" (co-written, I learned, by John Lennon) and "Golden Years" but also "Space Oddity," Bowie's first memorable song and perhaps the one most associated with him, and "Suffragette City," "Rebel, Rebel," and "Ziggy Stardust." (I previously wrote about that album, my favorite of his and one my favorites of all-time).

When my tastes shifted to FM and classic rock, I learned more about Bowie. I had his magnificent album Station to Station, and then Low, his first of the "Berlin Trilogy," which kind of threw me and everyone else for a loop, as he once again reinvented himself and became a New Wave artist. Later, he became most popular when he embraced MTV and performed danceable songs like "Let's Dance," his best-selling record ever.

He was also an infrequent but memorable actor. His film The Man Who Fell to Earth cemented the idea that he was like someone not from this Earth, or, as I read yesterday, the most human of aliens. I believe his last role was as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and more than one person, myself included, didn't even realize that was him as we watched.

Bowie was also important to the outsiders among us. I've been reading comments by many who were changed by his songs. "Rebel, Rebel," and it's line, "Not sure if I'm a boy or girl" affected many who were gender-confused. The supporting lines in "Rock and Roll Suicide"'--"Oh no, love, you're not alone," had to be succor to many. The most listened to Bowie song on Spotify since the news of his death his has been "Heroes":

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

I have been trying to decide what my favorite Bowie song is and it's futile. I keep remember songs that I had forgot he did, like the theme from Cat People, "Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline)," or "TVC15," or "DJ," or maybe "Starman." If someone made me pick, I'd go with "1984," which begins with a funky wah-wah guitar and then soars off into science fiction.

David Bowie was a complete original, a weirdo in the best sense of the world, who literally changed the world. He was a rock star but also an artist, a man who never rested on his laurels, who always led while others followed.

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