Goodbye Bowie

Illustration by Serina Mercado
Illustration by Serina Mercado

By Michaela Payne/ Culture Editor

After decades spent reinventing rock music, David Bowie passed away in New York City on January 10 after an 18-month fight with cancer. He was 69.  

The multi-talented recording artist and music producer became a hugely recognizable icon after releasing the song “Space Oddity,” used by BBC in their coverage of the U.S. moon landing in 1969. Bowie was known for wild costumes, other-worldly performances and space age lyrical content.

Though he gained extreme public attention and international fame, Bowie valued anonymity and spent his last months in New York where only his closest confidants knew of his declining health.

Black Star

Without even a whisper of foreboding in the media, the world seemed shocked by Bowie’s death. Just two days before his death, on his birthday, he released his 27th studio album, “Black Star.”

Reviewers seemed stumped about what the songs could mean and discussions flared online. Many guessed the album’s lyrics were intended to weave a dark farewell.

“I wish we had more time to prepare. The last video he made was beautiful though,” former student Matt Kimbrough said.

In the video for the title track, “Black Star,” Bowie scattered lyrics about death, skulls, the afterlife and whether fame is fleeting or everlasting. Bowie’s iconic skeletal form is enrobed in black like an occult spiritual leader, staring up into a bright beam of light. He holds up a black book emblazoned with a large black star, like he’s keeping some power at bay.

In Bowie’s video for “Lazarus,” he clutches blankets toward a bandage around his eyes and head, and sings, “Look up here/I’m in heaven/I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” The scene shows Bowie in a hospital-like bed.

Yet he stands and does a little dance, and rocks tight black clothes so shiny and futuristic. His makeup and the dim lighting seem to show his age and gaunt condition, but he is stylish and shocking like he always had been.

Farewell

Record numbers of viewers and listeners accessed Bowie’s work after he died, and nightly tribute dance parties swept the clubs of San Francisco.

Bowie was born David Jones in 1947, and he adopted the surname moniker Bowie at the age of 18 after the American knife fighter who the Bowie knife was named for. The young rocker obsessed over cultural icons and public figures with theatrical personas.

His gender fluidity shocked some people, and his sexuality fluctuated between orientations. His leg-baring styles and elaborate pretty makeup influenced fashion, art, music, and social perceptions of gender norms, and paved the way for others to more safely express their own androgyny.

Bowie lived a rockstar life, and helped shape the public’s idea of what that was. At age 15, he formed his first band, The Konrads. One of his famously different-colored eyes, his left, was damaged in a fistfight with a friend in 1962. The pupil remained open permanently, adding to his overall fantastical appearance.

In the 1970s, he struggled with significant drug problems with cocaine and heroin, writing the song “Ashes to Ashes” about his struggle. Later in his career, Bowie created a sound with deliberately less commercial appeal for his new band, Tin Machine.

He played 14 instruments, produced other artists, acted in films and on stage, and his music influenced countless musicians. He was known for concept albums and immersing himself into new personas, like the character Ziggy Stardust.

Cultural Icon

Bowie was influenced by soul and was one of few white artists invited to perform on the TV dance show Soul Train to play his songs in the style of “plastic soul”—sounds pioneered by black artists adopted by white musicians. He took British rock to new territory into glam rock, performance art, pop, electronica, drag and theater.

Bowie declined the award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2000, and refused Queen Elizabeth’s offer for knighthood in 2003. Bowie was uninterested in fame for fame’s sake, and said that sort of recognition was “not what I spend my life working for.” He had model Kate Moss accept his Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2006, and was honored as “Best British Male” at the 2014 Brit Awards.

He held the leading role in the film “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), played the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s film “Labyrinth” (1986), played scientist Nikola Tesla in “The Prestige” (2006), and had many other roles and cameos.

He starred in a 1976 film based on the novel “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” and later co-created the stage play “Lazarus” from the same story. After a show of the stage production on January 20 this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that day as the city’s David Bowie Day.

Bowie was survived by his wife Iman, 60, a supermodel, actress and entrepreneur originally from Somalia, and their daughter, 15-year-old Alexandria. For 10 years from 1970 to 1980, Bowie was married to Angela Bowie, a journalist and former model and actress. Now 66, she quit her stint on the reality show Big Brother after she learned of Bowie’s death. Their son, Duncan, 44, is an emerging filmmaker.


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