As I sit down to write this tribute to one of my artistic heroes, David Bowie, 20 hours have passed since news broke of his death. In that time, countless messages and tributes have flowed in from artists in every musical category you could imagine. I feel obliged to write this because I owe a lot to his passion and bravery, as he continued to experiment and redefine what popular music was, we as fans went along for the ride. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that it’s been the most exhilarating and profound experience to make the journey through his immense catalogue spanning over four decades. Every era, or shift in style that Bowie so brilliantly executed, acted as a gateway to new and exciting sounds that hadn’t been accessible to me before.
My first introduction to Bowie, as I suspect will be similar to others who were born at the end of the 1980s, was in the film Labyrinth. I still firmly remember being captivated by its spectacle, the result of three titans of creative art – Jim Henson, George Lucas and David Bowie. My sister had a copy of the original soundtrack, and I became obsessed with Bowie’s contributions to the score – “Underground”, “As the World Falls Down” and of course the iconic “Magic Dance”. That was my gateway into 1980s pop music, specifically art pop and new wave, music which is still very close to my heart.
In high school, I was introduced to Ziggy Stardust. I couldn’t believe this was the same artist, his voice was distinctly different and the crisp rock & roll instrumentation sounded nothing like the man who sang “Let’s Dance”. At the time I was only aware of a few of Bowie’s radio singles, as I moved into my 20s I started to realise his artistic contributions stretched further than I could have ever imagined. I began to approach his albums chronologically. Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs blew me away. They still do. Thanks to these albums, I suddenly acquired an appreciation for the overtly theatrical and raucous style that is glam rock, and artists such as T. Rex and Lou Reed became mainstays in my music collection.
Then came Station to Station and the three albums dubbed as the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ – Low, Heroes and Lodger. It’s almost an indescribable experience when you encounter something so radically different and challenging, it completely changes your perception on what music actually is. That’s what happened after I heard Low, thanks to its mix of rhythm & blues, funk, rock, German progressive & experimental music (known as ‘krautrock’) and atmospheric ambient music, I’ve now tragically become enraptured by anything with an experimental tinge. I guess that’s why I love Blackstar so much. With experimental music, the journey never ends. Boundaries are continually pushed, conventions are reshaped and structures are demolished. These are all concepts and approaches which have carried over into other aspects in my life. This is the world Bowie has left me, and everyone else with. It’s something I can never be thankful enough for.
Above all, David Bowie introduced me to the concept of music having a distinct artistic merit. Yet he somehow made it all accessible. He even managed to get avant-garde music on the radio! Just look at the video for “Ashes to Ashes”. Bowie took surreal, abstract concepts and not only made them commercially viable but extremely catchy, inspiring millions of people. It’s almost certain that sales of Blackstar will skyrocket, propelling an experimental, progressive jazz piece to #1. Another remarkable feat by the great man, but one that nobody should be surprised by. As a result, a current generation will be lucky enough to be introduced to his music and go through remarkable journeys just as I did, as will generations in the future.
Thank you for everything, David.