David Bowie (1947-2016) – only last week, Friday to be exact, we were celebrating a birthday and the release of Lazarus, the new album from David Bowie; his second in nearly a decade. The reviews were stunning – the release was timed to coincide with his 69th birthday. We were all wishing him well and excited for this new phase in the ever-changing, ever-evolving career of probably the most influential and pivotal artist the world had seen.
The new album came as a surprise – it was recorded largely in secret. But it was Bowie, and we grew to expect that. Never one to sit on laurels or rehash previous triumphs, David Bowie was on a constant search, in a perpetual state of reinvention – and we trusted him.
I came to discover David Bowie by way of Space Oddity, when it was released on Mercury in 1969. Prior to that, it was a neo-psychedelic single called The Laughing Gnome which made little impact and didn’t foretell the future of what was to come.
Space Oddity was another story entirely – it was haunting and memorable and it did foretell the future of an artist who was to emerge a short time later. And it continued with The Man Who Sold The World – by that time, we were hooked and wondering what the next thing from David Bowie was going to be.
And it came, and we were dumbstruck and we were blown away. And it shook up everything we had come to expect from Pop Music and turned Rock into something new and different and blew all the expectations we had out of the water.
And from that point on, there was no looking back – when Ziggy Stardust emerged it was a catharsis and everything after that was larger-than-life – Rock n’ Roll met Theatre and it was a match made in heaven.
And Rock went from being a get-together to being a spectacle – it was all those elements; pathos, outrage, drama, energy and passion, tossing them all together and showering the audience, leaving them transformed.
And we never forgot.
And so last night, when news flashed over the BBC that David Bowie had died, only three days after the celebrations, it was met with stunned disbelief. Maybe it was a mistake, all a mixup. But as the newscaster struggled, reading copy as it was coming to him, and as grainy film footage of the last Spiders From Mars concert ran, the reality filtered in. And as the screen went from “breaking news” to becoming the lead story, the shock and sadness became very real with perhaps the irony that, amid all this celebration and all this anticipation over a new and exciting phase in a matchless career, it was indeed a final farewell and a parting gift.
Some people woke up this morning, hoping it was a bad dream – swearing it wasn’t/couldn’t possibly be true. David Bowie was too young to go, there was too much left to do, too much left to explore. But the story has indeed ended – and all that’s left is the song. The song and the words and the memory and the example of a life well-explored – a life that challenged and questioned – a life that went constantly and magnificently forward.
The tributes and recollections have been flooding in – wave after wave of memory and recall.
I ran across this interview, conducted in 2002 for the BBC Radio 4 Front Row series. In the midst of all the interviews and tributes pouring in, I thought I would add this one as way of remembrance of an unforgettable artist, a truly inspiring human being and a truly gifted musician.
I am certainly not alone in feeling we will never see his like again – he was, without question, one of a kind.
Gratitude for your time on this earth goes without saying.