He Thinks He’d Blow Our Minds: The Legacy of David Bowie

By on Tuesday, 12th January 2016 at 11:00 am
 

It has now been over 24 hours since the shocking announcement of David Bowie’s passing at the age of 69 from liver cancer. Chances are by the time you read these words, you have read loads of tributes, drafted up by journos, provided by celebrities who knew Bowie personally, plus those by your friends and acquaintances who grew up with and were influenced by his music and style. If you’ve listened to the right radio station(s) (*cough* BBC 6 Music *cough*), you’ve also had sonically the most enjoyable stroll through time, through his celebrated catalogue.

It’s not my intention to repeat what has already been said and what has already been written. You can read plenty of that now all over the internet. (If you’re looking for an excellently written article on his legacy, or if you’re just looking to read more on him, I recommend my friend Dorian Lynskey’s piece for GQ, ‘David Bowie was the vanguard of popular music’.) On my way to work yesterday morning, stunned in hearing just minutes before of Bowie’s passing on a breaking news segment on local news radio, I contemplated how I might go about paying appropriate tribute to a man who meant so much to so many people, and over such a long, storied career.

It’s the herculean task of *all* herculean tasks. As I edited our Steven’s review of Bowie’s last album ‘Blackstar’ this weekend (you can read this as it goes live in an hour, at noon today), it blew my mind that this was Bowie’s 25th album. 25th. Contrast that to the current landscape of the music industry, where most pop artists are lucky to put out two or three albums before their record label gets all anxious about their profit margins and drops them.

All hats are off, and deservedly so, to this great man’s incredible talent, unstoppable creativity and audacious courage in going against the grain, going completely into character with his unforgettable, colourful, androgynous persona of Ziggy Stardust, for one. But the Bowie characteristic I relate to most that I worry might get lost in all of the posthumous celebration of his life was his prolificity. He never wanted to rest on his laurels and retire on the royalties from his biggest hits (‘Heroes’, ‘Changes’, ‘Let’s Dance’, just to name three), though we all know he could have easily done so. He could have spent his last years comfortably gazing out the window of his New York apartment and watching his young daughter grow up, and we wouldn’t have flinched.

He didn’t have to, but he kept working. And worked unbelievably hard. It is absolutely astonishing to consider that over the last year, as he continued his involvement with the off-Broadway musical whose script he cowrote with Enda Walsh, Lazarus, and was a key player in its development, all the while he was battling bravely with cancer, and in secret. As someone with a chronic illness, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have to conceal something of such significance about his life, that he knew his days on this earth were numbered, that he could not let on to anyone beyond his immediate family.

This was a concerted effort to suppress the knowledge, so that the appreciation of his latest creation could not be affected by the eventual finality of his passing. As we feel the pain and mourn the loss of Bowie, there is some comfort to be found in the fact that even at the very end, he remained a true artist and although his life was sadly cut short by a terminal illness, he left us on his own terms. As he did with everything else in his life.

There was no-one else like David Bowie when he was living, while he was on this earth, making music, changing his look and image, crafting his art. He was different, celebrated difference, and allowed the rest of us to be okay with and accept our own differences. And there will never be anyone like him ever again.

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