Wednesday, January 13, 2016

David Bowie & Me

I write this on the evening of January 10, 2016, I just learned of the passing of David Robert Jones or as the world knew him, David Bowie. Before I get to his accomplishments, I will get to my personal history with this musician, music producer, actor, and artist. Growing up in the seventies he was on the radio everywhere. At my Pentecostal Junior High, he was characterized by the teachers and school literature as one of the more morally corrupt rockers of the 60’s and 70’s since he was a self admitted bi-sexual. When I read about him I did not realized who he was based on his music till I was in High School. During that time my musical tastes were hard rock and metal. I loved his work from Space Oddity to the work in the mid 70’s. I was not a fan of his late 70’s to mid 80’s work, due to the genres David Bowie was working on in that period.

In college (1986-1988) at Forest Grove, Oregon when I was a Disk Jockey on KUPR, Pacific University’s radio station, I had a Classic Rock/ Oldies show. David Bowie was in serious heavy rotation. It did not hurt that the station had so many of his works on vinyl. In college I was experimenting seriously with music. When I immersed myself in his music, in college, I did not care about his sexuality. His work sung to me. I learned to love all of his work in college. I was the ultimate misfit in my mind, the genetic freak of nature. David Bowie loved freaks of all shapes, sizes, creeds colours, and endless varieties.

I have to admit David Bowie, along with another hero who just happened to be a friend of David Bowie’s, Freddie Mercury, taught me to accept all people for who they are. My credo is unless someone is doing harm to others and themselves I do my best to be accepting. In High School I started a path of rejecting some of the moralistic judgmental parts of my upbringing, by college and my mid-twenties the last vestiges of this were gone. I, to this day, see David Bowie’s work as instrumental in that path. As an adult I realized how he seriously influenced music from the 70’s on.

I saw many of his films: Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), The Hunger (1983), Labyrinth (1986), Absolute Beginners (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Zoolander (2001), and The Prestige as Nikola Tesla (2006). Even if I did not care for the film, his performances were always impeccable.

Let’s get to his musical accomplishments. First was the hit Space Oddity in 1969 followed by the albums Man Who Sol the World (1970) and Hunky Dory (1971). David Bowie helped usher in the Glam Rock era of the early 70’s with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. He continued to experiment with rock, soul, funk, ambient, and electronic music over the years. He inspired punk, the new romanticism movement, Goth, new wave, alternative, electronic, ambient, industrial, synthpop, grunge, and so much more. Some of the inspiration was musical, some was style, and he inspired others with attitude.

He was behind the re-mergence of Lou Reed post Velvet Underground with Transformer in 1972. Lou had released a solo album prior, but it did not do well. Transformer blew the hinges off things. David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson were instrumental as the producers of the album that helped Lou re-discover his voice. That album had Lou Reed’s best known classics on it: Vicious, Perfect Day, Walk on the Wild Side, and Satellite of Love. David Bowie had a long working relationship with Brian Eno. He helped Iggy Pop with his solo career post Stooges with producing and writing songs for the albums Idiot (1977) and Lust for Life (1977). He even co-wrote Under Pressure, his duet with Queen in 1981. In 1982, David Bowie worked with Nile Rodgers of Chic on the album Let’s Dance. The Post Disco era had been hard on Rodgers. Let’s Dance led to Rodgers producing INXS, Duran Duran and Madonna. David Bowie was an artistic advocate; he helped other artists he valued.

In 1988 he started the band Tin Machine, going back to his rock roots. In 1995 he worked with Eno again on Outside. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1997 he allowed Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to remix I’m Afraid of Americans. His last album Blackstar (2016) was released in the same month as his passing.

He was a true Renaissance man and artist. He did not allow himself to become stagnant in any musical style, he evolved with the times. No one ever thought he was irrelevant, ever. He was a true inspiration and innovator. I hope he will inspire generations to come. 

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