A Tribute to David Bowie

Understanding the man, and the legacy he left behind.

Much has been written about David Bowie since his death on January 10, 2016 at the age of 69. Legions of fans from different backrounds have come together in a bond that is filled with sorrow, and a sense of loss.

While Bowie’s departure seemed quite sudden, in fact he had been suffering from cancer for the past 18 months. Bowie kept his disease a secret as he worked tirelessly on Lazarus, a new off-Broadway play, and released his twenty-fifth studio album, the jazz-inflected Blackstar.

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Looking at those words now, it is hard to escape the feeling that Bowie was writing his own eulogy. “Lazarus”, the breakout single off Blackstar, begins with Bowie crooning “Look at me, I’m in Heaven…I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.” In the accompanying video, released three days before his death, the singer looks frail and is confined to a hospital bed. A bandage covers the upper half of his face, with buttons where his eyes would be. At the close of the video, he is dressed in his best-known outfit from Nicholas Roeg’s 1976 surreal science fiction film The Man Who Fell to Earth, and he retreats into a wardrobe, closing the door behind him.

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David Bowie’s album Blackstar debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number one. The last artist to top the charts after his death was Michael Jackson.

It is not surprising that Bowie returned to aliens and wardrobes for his final sendoff, considering how extensively he was inspired by both subjects during his five-decade career. Bowie repeatedly used the concept of extraterrestrial life to express his own alienation from the world, the feeling of not fitting in to such an extreme degree that he must be on the wrong planet.

Perhaps in an effort to reconcile this cognitive dissonance, Bowie explored different personas, toying with the concept of identity with unmatched fluidity throughout his entire career. His musical works typically eschewed introspection and emotion in favor of character development. Each one of his indelible characters had a distinct look, from the glam-rock spaceman Ziggy Stardust to the skeletal, hedonistic Thin White Duke and beyond.

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The film roles Bowie chose reflect his interest in portraying characters outside societal norms. As Thomas Jerome Newton, the eponymous Man Who Fell to Earth, he came to our planet in search of water for his own dying world. Over time, the disguise he wore to adapt to life on Earth became impossible to remove, metaphorically depicting both the tendency of society to corrupt one’s individuality.

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In Labyrinth, Bowie fit right in amongst a plethora of Jim Henson’s freakiest puppets. He brought a sense of otherworldly menace, and an undeniable underlying charisma to his portrayal of Jareth, the Goblin King. Once again, the blurred boundaries between reality and illusion were explored.

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1983’s The Hunger featured Bowie as that most stylish of undead creatures, the vampire. Granted eternal life but not eternal youth, his character has a tragic arc, ending up confined to a coffin until the death of his former paramour and partner in bloodsucking frees his soul. Bowie imbues his performance with a dark, decadent glamour that is well-suited to the film’s elegant Gothic sensibility. The horror film was nominated for Saturn Awards for Best Makeup and Best Costume, but lost to Return of the Jedi.

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Throughout his career David Bowie sold more than 140 million albums. He was an inspiration to artists through multiple generations, and one of the biggest innovators of music to ever live.

Sadly David Bowie has gone into his wardrobe, and won’t be coming back out this time as another of his own reinventions. He will be sorely missed by all of us who felt like we didn’t have a place on this planet. He made us feel like we were not alone in the universe, and will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace David Bowie, you will be missed!

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Feel free to share your memories of David Bowie and how he impacted your life in the comments section below. Here are a few of my favorite videos.

The first video in which Bowie appears, “Space Oddity” depicts a fictional astronaut being launched into space.

David Bowie with Tina Turner in a wonderful performance of “Let’s Dance”

Knock on Wood (written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper in 1966) was always my favorite cover done by Bowie. This recording is from a live concert in 1974.

Here is a video from Nirvana covering David Bowie’s “The Man that Sold the World”. Kurt Cobain, who was heavily influenced by Bowie’s music was later thanked by him for introducing his music to a new generation of listeners.

“Look Back in Anger” is a great depiction of an artist facing the angel of death. As the video progresses, the painting becomes more beautiful as the artist becomes deformed.

You can follow me on Twitter @BloodShedMyers.

 

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Josh Millican
    18 January 2016 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    One of the best Bowie tributes I’ve read. You took the time to really delve into the man’s careers in both film and music. Thanks for this!

    • Matthew Myers
      18 January 2016 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you Josh!

  • Pixy Muse
    15 April 2017 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I was in love with him when I was 13 lol. I had a huge poster of him over my headboard in my room 😂😂😂. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember my fave song but it was a long time ago lol. But it was one of his love songs from the 80’s. 💜💜💜

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