Of all my many musical blind spots (i.e., musicians that I really ought to have listened to and studied before now), none sting quite so forcefully as David Bowie. This was as true yesterday, only a few days after the release of “Blackstar”, as it was this morning, when I woke up and looked at my phone and saw the news. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it, somehow thought it must be a hoax.
I have long been an appreciator of Bowie’s cultural influence, even if I never really got into his music. Indeed, you didn’t even necessarily have to know his music to appreciate his massive cultural impact and influence. My first exposure to David Bowie as cultural icon was the quote that led off “Breakfast Club”.
When Derek Zoolander and Hansel are about to have a “walk-off”, of course David Bowie would be the judge; when Christopher Nolan directed his first post-Batman movie and needed someone to play Nikolai Tesla, of course he’d use David Bowie; when Ricky Gervais needed someone to deliver the ultimate piss-take, David Bowie fucking destroyed him. David Bowie has been the de facto coolest person on the planet for nearly 50 years.
It’s a shame that I never heard his music during those formative years when he would’ve done the most good. When I was in my early teens and going to performing arts summer camp, I was getting introduced to prog bands and other stuff like Zeppelin, Rush… and from there it was a short hop skip and jump to jam bands like Phish (who, of course, have a song called “David Bowie“). I of course had heard his ubiquitous hits – “Let’s Dance”, the “Dancing In the Streets” thing with Mick – but I didn’t necessarily know that Vanilla Ice had committed blasphemy by ruining the bassline from “Under Pressure”. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that I started trying to correct my Bowie deficiency; I’d bought the 30-year anniversary reissue of Ziggy Stardust, and then a little later I took a crash course in the Berlin trilogy on Spotify, but it was a little too obtuse for me; I can be somewhat of a stubborn curmudgeon as far as my musical tastes go, and Bowie was just too weird for me. (It also drove me crazy that his bandmates’ instruments never seemed to be in tune – Exhibit A is the bassline in “Suffragette City“.)
Still and all, though, I grieve today as most of the world grieves. Bowie was a singular talent, a visionary, a man seemingly not of this Earth. His loss cannot be overstated. He will be missed. We are fortunate to have had him in our lives, in whatever capacity that might have been.
The stars look very different today.