David Bowie’s 25th studio album was released last Friday on his birthday. Two days later, he was dead after an 18-month battle with cancer. Like many people (I suspect), I did the only thing I could when I heard the news. I downloaded the album, listened to it, and wept.
David Bowie has been a part of the bedrock of my life for almost as long as I can remember. A favorite of my parents, I was exposed to his work early and often. Beginning with his arguably most commercial album, Let’s Dance—which was released when I four years old—I ultimately worked my way through his entire catalog, reveling in the sheer ambition of his musicality and whimsical brilliance of his lyricism. After considerable pondering, I determined that Diamond Dogs was my all-time favorite album (though”Always Crashing in the Same Car” was my favorite song), but I acknowledged the technical superiority of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Even Bowie’s so-called lesser works had their charms, however. The truth is that I could listen to any Bowie anytime, and like so many other devoted fans I have learned so much from him about art and artistry; about creation and innovation and failure and perseverance.
As a performer, Bowie was one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century, blending theatricality with musical showmanship in ever-evolving ways. Over the course of almost fifteen years, I saw Bowie perform in concert eight times, beginning with his Sound + Vision Tour in 1990—when I was much too young to appreciate it—and culminating in his performance at the Roseland Ballroom in 2002, when he performed his then-latest album Heathen from start to finish and then—to my unending joy—played his 1977 masterpiece Low from start to finish as well. Every show was different; every show was another chance to see vintage Bowie again for the very first time. Though he was always immutably Bowie, he never did the same thing twice—experimenting with new sounds and new technologies, inspiring and fostering new generations of talent, the way some people wear different hats for different days.
His final album, Blackstar, is yet another example of David Bowie’s gift of reinvention. His long-time producer, Tony Visconti, has called the album a parting gift to his fans. One last act of kindness on behalf of his adoring public; one last performance of the identity that he cultivated over the course of an extraordinary lifetime. “I’m dying to push their backs against the grain and fool them all again and again,” Bowie sings on Blackstar‘s penultimate track, “Dollar Days.” In death, as in life, he succeeded at this goal admirably. Ever the chameleon, Bowie fooled and befuddled me, beguiled and delighted me, for three decades. And I am thankful for every moment.
Be at peace, you beautiful moonage daydream.