The twenty-two year old man sits before a large mirror as he applies his own makeup. He can neither afford, nor does he desire any assistance. He creates a painting on his face just the way he likes. He leaves the dressing room, walks out onto a stage where he becomes Ziggy Stardust; a bisexual alien Rock Superstar and woos his audience. His biggest concern is now how to ditch Ziggy before the character defines him forever.
Ccccchanges. That's how. A true artist somehow knows deep inside what needs to be done to keep your audience off balance yet hold their admiration. It's not easy and not all artists get it right. David Bowie got it right; boy did he get it right.
At 19 he wrote Space Oddity; the song that launched his career (no pun intended). He's credited with being the father of GlamRock and Heavy Metal. He influenced who followed. As fast as others would imitate him he'd move on to something (someone) else. He could be as dark as a windowless basement with no electricity at midnight one minute or lightheartedly dancin' in the streets with Mick Jagger the next.
Who the hell was this man anyway? An often asked question that never receives an adequate response. Bowie was something very special to me and perhaps irrelevant to you. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released on June 6, 1972. It's one of the first concept albums. It brought into focus the artificiality of rock music and discussed issues of politics, drug use, and sexual orientation. We are still talking about and are divided over these same issues today. Naturally, Bowie was four decades ahead of us.
Just when we got used to dyed, spiked hair and bizarre outfits the man with a most mellow, spacey voice does the unexpected (which by now we should've come to expect). On September 11, 1977, Bing Crosby invited Bowie to join him in singing "Little Drummer Boy" to be aired on Bing's Christmas show on December 24th. Bowie agreed to do it, because "I just knew my mother liked him". Of David Bowie Bing Crosby said, "Clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well." Bing died five weeks after they recorded the song and before it aired.
The year 1979 saw his first appearance on Saturday Night Live. If our parents were horrified at the gyrating hips of Elvis or the long hair of the Beatles they were left speechless at the gaunt man with stellar hair and androgynous features standing on stage wearing a medium blue dress singing "MY TVC 15" with Klaus Nomi. Our poor, poor parents. It's time we forgive them for, much like Bing, they knew not what was happening around them. Looking back now as a grandparent I'd be frightened too. Bowie was frightening; when he wasn't totally awesome. Those of genius have that effect on the rest of us. We don't know what's going on in their head and thus people this intense make us a little nervous. It's of little comfort to know that this is exactly the impact the artist is looking for.
Eighteen months ago the chain-smoking, all-time Superstar was diagnosed with cancer. His response to the news of his failing health was to immediately begin work on what would be his final album; Blackstar. Oh baby, this is one intense album. The man is dying and yet right to his last breath his is the consummate performing artist. Dressed as a blinded prophet with jewels for eyes he grabs us by the throat and takes us to his scariest places.
Some say R.I.P. Not me. Instead I'd prefer to think that he would just keep on creating in another universe. There will forever be but one David Bowie; whoever that was.