Did anyone notice a strange light in the night sky yesterday? Maybe a beam of light? Or a reversed shooting star? Because yesterday was the day that strange life form we knew under the alias DAVID BOWIE finally returned to space; the place of his origin. After spending seven decades on the blue planet he might thought it was about time to leave. He’s given us everything he could. He came to this earth on January the 8th in 1947 with one simple but ambitious goal: to give us the gift of pop music, to help us shape this weird thing called pop culture, to extend its boundaries, break them down, just to build them up again in a totally different way. What a task! But, in the end, you needed an extraterrestrial being to carry that burden, one that made this thing look and sound so easy that we could almost forget about that fact.
‘There’s a starman waiting in the sky.
He’d like to come and meet us’
But he thinks he’d blow our minds’
It was him. He was the starman all along. The one who fell to earth and blew our minds. Who shook it all up. He changed the rules forever. There is no going back. Yesterday was the day the world lost David Robert Jones and with him our guiding light of pop. Where are we now? What are we supposed to do?
The extraterrestrial arrived in the late 40s and needed a few years to adapt himself to this weird human body and our society. He never really got that whole concept of genders and those societal rules we were all so bound to. Following the horror of World War II a new generation rose out the ashes, one that was willing to not repeat the mistakes of their parents. Rock’n’Roll and pop were the forces to avoid this from very early on. First there was Elvis, then there were THE BEATLES but they weren’t meant to last. In the aftermath of the Fab Four and Woodstock, the starman saw his chance and stepped into the limelight. Space Oddity marked the first impact and who knows – the stars might have indeed looked very different on that day as well, just as he wrote in that song.
But just composing perfect pop songs might have been too simple for the man who sold the world. In the 1970s he decided to let all that extraterrestrial madness break free by deciding to become a chameleon. Before him guys were destined to dress up like guys and girls like girls. Coming from a far more evolved society BOWIE began to question why that was actually the case in the first place. He became Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke. He broke with century-old standards, propagandised decadence, glam, style and coolness to an extend the music world hasn’t seen so far. He was the start of it. He did it and pop adapted it. Getting bored quite quickly, he continued to explore more fields. Young Americans saw him exploring traditional soul music territory before he turned his back to America once again and resided in Berlin in the late 70s. The chaotic centre of the Cold War might have been the best place to be during that time, he thought. Who knows if Iggy Pop wasn’t a fellow space men in the end as well? He embraced the cold and haunting atmosphere of the Kraufrock and Kraftwerk-infected Germany, found a companion in Brian Eno and played with aesthetics in a quite morbid but still glamorous way. And for a while it was perfect. Once he saw that bands like JOY DIVISION picked up his ideas he decided to move on again.
And that’s basically what he would continue to do in the next three decades. He gave us guidance and a compass, tried out everything from cheesy synthpop to excessive drum’n’bass. He wasn’t afraid to embrace trip hop, industrial rock and he even once did a video game soundtrack. He would later eventually return to his own musical roots at the beginning of the 21st century, maybe because he thought the world needed that reminder. Once he saw that artists like ARCADE FIRE, ST. VINCENT, LADY GAGA or maybe even KANYE WEST were willing and capable to carry the torch on the extraterrestrial being decided that it was time to retire from his job and let that new generation continue what he first started. By now the world of pop music has changed drastically. Dozens of sub-genres emerged and vanished, listener habits changed and so did the way humanity consumes and also appreciates music. Not everything turned out better in the end but by then it was out of his hands anyway.
Ultimate illusion until the end
Still, the starman remained restless. For him pop was never just about the song, it was about the performance. He taught us that pop music could be so much more than just simple love songs about ‘boy meets girl’ – pop could tell a story, be risky, be hilarious and brave, a beautiful but still meaningful distraction from the world. And by being that, pop could ultimately change the world to a better place, one that accepts change and indifference, one that embraces its rebels as leaders and stops limiting itself. DAVID BOWIE was more than the godfather of pop, he was pop – from start to finish. His just released final record Blackstar was designed as a ‘parting gift‘ to his fans right from the start. He knew that right when he got first diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago. Blackstar was ambitious and fresh sounding funeral and we just started to realize the hints in its songs.
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now
These words are taken off his Lazarus, BOWIE‘s final single. He held on until his musical legacy was released and then immediately started his final journey to the stars. There is no better way to stage your exit than in that form. The starman remained the master of its own illusion ’til the very end. He always lived, recorded and performed in a way that fitted to this illusion.
There is hardly any living musician today that wasn’t inspired in some form by Ziggy Stardust whether he might be aware of it or not. His ghost is sensible in almost every aspect of pop culture today whether it’s indie music, mainstream pop or other obscure art forms. No matter what sort of music you are into you’ll find something in the back catalogue of DAVID BOWIE that applies to your taste, trust me. A world without him seems kind of hard to imagine but his slow retreat from the public’s eye over the past did its best to prepare us for that. The starman can’t be replaced and there’s no need to. His ideas already became part of the DNA of human pop music. Maybe the loss of BOWIE reminds us all to explore this DNA a bit better.
One life as a neverending reminder that art is always meant to remain restless
Dear artists of today, you won’t reinvent the wheel but you can be inspired by this man every day. Change your habits, be brave, be smart and don’t become a victim of your own artistic comfort zone. Get inspired by others and therefore inspire others as well. Art was always meant to remain restless. That’s one of the many lessons this man has taught us. Please be willing to adapt that bravery into your art and everyday life so that this being’s mission on earth wasn’t for nothing.
There’s one final transmission he’s sending to us. Well, he already sent it to us 57 years ago via Space Oddity:
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Thank you, spaceboy. Thank you for watching over us. You’ll be missed!