The first music video I vividly remember from my childhood featured a pale, skinny man with pronounced teeth and sharp features, who was alternately dressed up as an post-modern Pierrot and locked up in a padded cell. I honestly don’t remember liking the music at that point, and I’m pretty sure as a 3-year-old nothing about it made any sense to me. The images stuck with me until this day. The video was David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’.
Over twenty years later I temporarily moved into the attic of a friends' house and consequently had access to one of the biggest Bowie collections I had ever encountered. Best of all, it came with a host that would immerse me into it with an almost religious fervor. Of course I knew and liked Bowie’s work already, but over many nights drinking he showed me every aspect of his legacy, not only of the Thin White Duke’s own music, but also the music, art and fashion that influenced him and vice versa. I heard Klaus Nomi, the German synthpop tenor who Bowie picked as his back up singer in a 1979 Saturday Night Live performance. I read about the connection with occultist Aleister Crowley. I learned about the influence of German Krautrock and Kraftwerk on some of his albums. I learned about the tragic life and career of Bowie acolyte Jobriath. I learned about Iggy’s solo work that Bowie produced. I saw Nicolas Roeg’s incredible 1976 movie ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ starring Bowie as an alien lost on earth. Every time I sat on the couch Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto were looking down on me from the framed ‘’Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ poster hanging above. Mostly though, I just listened to a shitload of his music.
Bowie is such an iconic artist, it’s sometimes hard to step back and realize the scope of his work. These are the albums Bowie released between 1969 and 1980:
The Man Who Sold The World
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Station to Station
Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
Just let that list sink in for a moment.
Bowie was banging out incredible albums almost annually. On top of that, every record has a distinct identity that is pushing boundaries musically, intellectually and artistically. It is an almost inhuman accomplishment. Maybe that explains Bowie’s own ongoing fascination with the concept of aliens, and why he often portrayed himself as a creature that was not of this world. It is hard to believe Bowie was made of the same fiber as the rest of us. It is hard to believe such a banal, cruel human disease like cancer would affect him. It is hard to believe he is no longer with us. The only thing left for us is to feel lucky we got a chance to share a planet with him for a while.