Text by Adam Lehrer
What can I say about the late David Bowie that hasn’t already been eulogized at length by the great artists and writers of the world? Something personal, I suppose. I feel like every Bowie fan has that moment when the man’s music became something more to him/her than something they would passively hear on classic rock radio. My parents were big on Bowie, so naturally I had a natural instinct towards rejecting him. But I was big into skateboarding, and skateboarding videos introduced me to a whole world of art and even more so music (I got into Coltrane through the Mark Gonzalez part in Blind’s Video Days, Fugazi was introduced to me by Ed Templeton’s avowed love of the band, etc..). Perhaps some of you might remember a skateboarding video by a board company called Flip and its first big video, Sorry. Pro skater Arto Saari had the last part, and he used a one-two whammy of Bowie’s 1984 and Rock n’ Roll Suicide for the soundtrack. That was it. Bowie’s melodies provided an emotional resonance to the skateboarding that normally wouldn’t be there. Bowie’s music provides an emotional resonance to anything. The man seemed to just feel things more, and those hard-hitting and powerful feelings filtered from his mind through his music and into the world. Rock n’ roll would never be the same.
It might be an awful thing to write, but it doesn’t seem surprising that in the twilight of his life, that Bowie was able to record two of his greatest musical achievements. When I heard Blackstar for the first time, I was stunned at how experimentally powerful it sounded; it sounded like the beginning or something but in fact it was the end. Bowie’s best work always teetered on the edge of life, death, and re-birth. It was through death defyingly rampant cocaine use that Ziggy Stardust was birthed to the world, and the re-birth of his newly sober soul in Berlin gave us ‘Low.’ That vague flicker between life and the unknown was one of Bowie’s greatest creative sparks. It gave him purpose and resolution to leave lasting documents of his talent. In my opinion, The Next Day and Blackstar are the best pieces of music that Bowie put out since the ‘70s.
Growing up in a small and oppressively conservative town as an extroverted but geeky readerly type more concerned with finishing Infinite Jest than winning a basketball championship, Bowie was god. He taught us all how to be fiercely and commitedly ourselves. Seeing Bowie, dressed garish and flamboyant, with beautiful women on his arm gave me hope. I knew I could one day be a fairly weird and offbeat fella and still get laid one day once freed from the grips of the suburbs. That might sound callous and rude, but one must sympathize with the fact of how freeing that actually is. Bowie helped give me hope for a bright and excellent future.
There will never ever be a rock star so adept at the art of self-invention. Like Warhol, he made the state of famousness itself a sort of self-expression. He was the bridge that held together the art rock of Lou Reed and Iggy with the mainstream world. A masterful producer, a genius songwriter, and a multi-media genius, he was truly the best of us.