Happy 66th birthday today to the one and only musically sonic alchemist David Bowie, the artistic pantologist who kept reinventing himself, taking music and genres to levels untold, using and utilizing his influences, inventing and shaping existing modes and expressions, and ultimately acting as a broad influence and factotum to those who followed him.
Other than jazz maverick Miles Davis and The Beatles, it would be difficult to try and find another artist/or artists who kept changing like a chameleon in all facets of his art the way David Bowie did, nurturing and producing A-list and struggling musicians along the way who also became well-known and revered; in essence Bowie became the number one artist to look at as a bonafide concrete example of creating a new identity again and again. Most musicians and artists are usually, while extremely successful at it, mired in their own personal skins and hardly ever deviate from it. If one listens to records by the mighty Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, or even Black Sabbath, the sound is instantly recognizable, their styles are immediate to the listener, upon first note and physical posturing.
David Bowie didn’t play it that route. He changed as often like shedding skin; going first from a post-Syd Barrett/Donovan kind of harmless elfin/pagan-style baroque strain which challenged nobody, but remained pleasant and earnest nonetheless, to a man who sold the world, decked in star spangled clothing over robustly crunching guitar sounds (courtesy of the late, great Mick Ronson and production by Tony Visconti), to putting both of those aforementioned sounds together and a dash of late Beatles/early T-Rex with Hunky Dory, being a master glam amphetamines-sizzling-in-a-skillet extraterrestrial with Ziggy Stardust, losing Ziggy’s grip as The “Lad Insane” on Alladin Sane, and then self-imploding and rising from the ashes as The Thin White Duke, sharp, double-breasted suited man-about-musical-town.
Bowie is his own Christopher Isherwood Berlin meets William S. Burroughs musical creation; if you blended in the styles of Andy Warhol New York and the unapologetic verve of an Iggy Pop or Lou Reed (both who have had seminal albums produced by Bowie: Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power and Reed’s Transformer, respectively). While the influences are there and firmly remained lodged in Bowie’s sound and vision, they still remain in the background, and are the background of Bowie’s foreground musical vista. They are like extra fireworks in an arsenal of a glitter-filled rainbow.
While he is best known for the 20 or so songs that have constantly been recycled and played and replayed in perpetuity on rehashed greatest hits albums and radio stations globally (you know them, songs like “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Fame,” “Modern Love,” and “Changes”), it’s the lesser known tracks that really showcase the mans talent and cements his true eclectisicm: “The Width of A Circle,” “Panic In Detroit,” “Up the Hill Backwards,” “It’s No Game,” “The Bewlay Brothers,” “Hang on to Yourself,” “Andy Warhol,” “Black Country Rock,” and “Savior Machine,” all which punch their way through the speakers and headphones whilst listening to them. They show that Bowie, with all his glamour and personality and journalistic and audience hype always forged up to the front of the metaphoric stage like a pushup bra, when David sings and performs and has great musicians at the helm of his songs, it’s where the charm and presence really lies and belies the core, the foundation of what makes this rock/pop/electronica/even white man’s R&B savior really swing.
And Bowie isn’t just tethered to the musical universe. This versatile figure stretches his talents like a true renaissance man in every sense of the term. He’s acted on Broadway as The Elephant Man, appeared in cinematic productions as varied as Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, Tony Scott’s The Hunger, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and even had some comedic jaunts in John Landis’ Into the Night, the small cult film The Linguini Incident, and the Monty Python-styled Yellowbeard. Bowie even lent his voice to a Spongebob Squarepants episode entitled Atlantis Squarepantis which borrowed heavily from the Peter Max-styled Beatles animated classic Yellow Submarine in its art design and sharp-eyed viewers of the episode noticed that Bowie’s character “Lord Royal Highness” had different colored eyes, something that has been both a truth and an urban legend that has gone with the Bowie tale ever since his success ship pulled out of the harbor.
Now he creeps ever so closer into his seventieth year on Earth, but make no mistake, the man hasn’t slowed down, and while most of his albums of late haven’t had the kind of success given to him during his halcyon years of the 70s and early/mid 80s, David Bowie remains a musical figure and hurricane force for the ages. For the initiated and the uninitiated, he’s ultimately and gracefully and even thankfully, a starman who indeed believes that the world can be heroes, even if it’s just for one day, even if ashes to ashes are all that remain.
Happy Birthday to one of musicdoms truest living monarchs, David Bowie!