Kristian Fletcher reflects on David Bowie
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us But he thinks he’d blow our minds “
– Starman (1972)
He dared to leave his capsule and impact Earth in a way many others have not dared. His impact on popular culture cannot be denied. In many ways, Bowie was popular culture. The looks, the musical genres, the videos, the kooky performances – both controversial and enthralling. We couldn’t look away. The extraterrestrial vibe of his early work made us question – was Bowie really from outer space? Was he our own Starman?
Whilst today many average artists hide behind an average catchy pop tune, Bowie was an incredible voice, powering through some of the greatest songs ever written, and many of those earlier songs are the epitome of glam rock today.
Bowie said it was ok to be weird, ok to not fit in. A man who stuck by his guns: if he wanted to wear an eye patch, he could. If he wanted to create and kill his own brainchild, the stage persona Ziggy Stardust, he could. He spoke to the outcasts, but also reached the masses who saw a true creative talent with the knack for writing one hell of a catchy song.
Ziggy Stardust (both the character and the album) had an incredible influence on modern music. Bowie was King of the concept album. Whilst Ziggy is the most applauded of Bowie’s personas, it’s easy to overlook the fact his entire career was a series of reinventions; characters if you will. Following the death of Ziggy, Bowie also played such personas as Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. An interview on Countdown in the mid Seventies saw Molly Meldrum ask him if there were any plans to bring Him back. There was a curious look and a ‘maybe’, but we knew Bowie had other things in mind.
Throughout the late 70s, he provided the best crossover by an artist into uncharted musical genre territory. He brought soul and funk to the UK, and experimental sound to hit singles, helping to pave the way for the sound of the 1980s. This ‘Berlin Era’ saw a haze of drug use and self-discovery, but Bowie still produced some incredible concept albums of different genres and wasn’t too interested in being commercial – hit singles from these albums told otherwise. Not as popular amongst his discography, I beg you to seek out TV15 and Boys Keep Swinging, two underrated examples of his late 70s output. Check out his theatrical performance of the latter song on Saturday Night Live in 1979, or the single’s official video which saw Bowie parade around under a trio of drag personas.
Bowie heralded 1980 with the clown-like art-film look of the Ashes to Ashes video and the equally challenging but popular Scary Monsters and Super Creeps album (1980). His reinvention with Let’s Dance timed perfectly with the boom of MTV in 1983 and the clips for that album were played on heavy rotation.
His iconic role as the Goblin King in the 1986 cult Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth ensured him a following amongst the younger generation. He dueted with everyone from Annie Lennox and Tina Turner, and to Mick Jagger (yes, that Dancing in the Street duet is a real thing!) and Freddie Mercury.
An interview from the mid 2000s saw Bowie scoff at mention of ‘musical chameleon’. That’s because the words to define David Bowie have yet to be invented.
If you want to see a fictional retelling of the early glam rock period, check out Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine (1998) which features characters based closely on Iggy Pop, and David & Angie Bowie. (The film even takes its name from the B Side of the Space oddity UK re-release single. Bowie refused to license the song for the film after reading the script and realising it was a blatant rip-off of the Ziggy Stardust character)
Author Kristian Fletcher