Is it possible to be speechless and overcome with racing thoughts at the same time? That’s what it feels like to write about David Bowie right now, who died yesterday after an 18-month battle with cancer, two days after turning 69 and releasing his final studio album Blackstar to universal acclaim. How can you pay tribute to someone who seemed to come from another planet and lived three lifetimes? How can you talk about someone you never knew but affected your and many others’ lives so deeply?
Bowie exploded from the British glam rock scene in the early 70s, eventually becoming its most well-known ambassador. He looked like no one else in the world: a sometimes crossdressing, sometimes androgynous alien with a mission to become the biggest rock star in the world. He did so by playing music informed by early rock – including the melodicism of The Beatles, the psychedelia of Pink Floyd, and the avant sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. After killing his alter ego Ziggy Stardust at the height of Bowiemania, he went on to explore many different contexts, personas, and sounds, dabbling and innovating in disco, R&B, krautrock, ambient, and modern electronic music. In the 80s, his star rose further by becoming a mainstay on radio, thanks to permanent hits like “Let’s Dance,” “Ashes To Ashes,” “Modern Love,” and “China Girl.” Not to be outdone, the 90s saw him venturing into NYC downtown avant-garde jazz, industrial, drum ‘n’ bass, and trip hop. He also collaborated with and nurtured newer artists, producing records by TV On The Radio and Arcade Fire. Simultaneously, he became a fashion icon and had a profound impact on the cinematic world.
His catalog is extensive, and since he explored so much territory, it’s almost impossible to find an aspect of music nowadays he didn’t influence, including hip-hop. Before Bowie, mainstream rock and the underground were almost completely divorced. He inadvertently invented “alternative” by bridging the gap between the two, and touched those cultural fields for the remainder of his career. He was fascinated by the most out-there sounds, yet he always invoked a catchy pop sensibility that invited listeners into his galaxy. Looking back, much of the popular and most enduring music made in the 80s sounds like the world catching up to his work.
His earlier music uses outer space and science fiction as metaphors for the experience of feeling like an outsider. If there’s a way to both synthesize Bowie’s career and his worldwide appeal generation after generation, it’s that this larger-than-life, otherworldy man, was an earthly misfit himself. He tried breaking into music for years before he found an audience, and he finally did it by embracing his eccentricities. In the process, he opened the door for everybody to embrace the Other within themselves. The Man Who Fell To Earth was not in fact a visitor from another world, but someone who decided to walk his own path, sharing his taste, sensibilities, and talent with all of us, setting an example for us to be our weird, wonderful selves, no matter how different we feel from others. Music and art seem to have changed to fit his own vision, like few extraordinary innovators have done. Now, he’s bound to become the stuff of true legends.
Of course, his contributions have touched every corner of the globe. We give you the best Bowie covers from Latin American artists and fans.