On Jan. 10, a star went into supernova in our galaxy. That star was David Robert Jones, more famously known by his stage name, David Bowie.
David Bowie was a rockstar, an androgynous hero, a rebel, an artist, an innovator, a sexually fluid icon and, most important of all, all too human and yet far from it.
His last album, which was released on Jan. 8 of this year (on his birthday), was Blackstar. Two days after its release, Bowie died of liver cancer after fighting it for 18 months. One cannot fail to see how his fight with cancer influenced this last album; in the song “Lazarus,” one hears Bowie’s awareness of his mortality as he sings, “Look up here, man, I’m in danger. I’ve got nothing left to lose.”
Bowie’s musical career began in the 1960s, but it was his 1969 single “Space Oddity,” which was later to be used as the opening song for his album David Bowie, that showed the potential of the young artist. Its moving portrayal of an astronaut’s journey into space made it clear that one need not be an astronaut to go into space, for one had music. So while Apollo 11 made its journey toward the moon, Bowie took the world with it.
Perhaps his most famous and most influential album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars cemented Bowie’s talent as a creative musician and thinker. Ziggy Stardust, the fictional alter ego of Bowie, is a rockstar who can communicate with aliens called the infinites. The world is coming toward an end in just five years and Ziggy is there to offer a sense of hope for the people of earth. In the opening song of the album, “Five Years,” Bowie sings, “News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in. News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying.” In the end, when the infinites arrive, they tear Ziggy apart and take “elements” of his being, as portrayed in the last song of the album, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.”
Bowie loved to play with the idea of what a musician can do beyond the music itself, and following Ziggy Stardust, he released Aladdin Sane, with the unforgettable cover of the lighting bolt painted across his face. In a Rolling Stone interview, when Bowie was asked about the cover, he answered that it was “an electric kind of thing. Instead of, like, the flame of a lamp, I thought [the album’s new alter ego] would probably be cracked by lightning. Sort of an obvious-type thing, as he was sort of an electric boy.”
Besides being artistically conscious, Bowie was conscious of the time he was living in and the social norms it came with, social norms that often oppressed those at the bottom. His first act of rebellion began with his sexually fluid and gender-bending persona that’s origins can be traced to his album The Man Who Sold The World, which features Bowie on the album cover wearing a dress with long hair.
Following the release of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie faced homophobic bigotry and told Rolling Stone that his action “was the most rebellious thing that was happening at that time.” In a 1983 interview with MTV, Bowie questions Mark Goodman, a VJ for MTV, why MTV does not feature black artists. Bowie asks, “Should it not be a challenge to try to make the media far more integrated, especially of anything in musical terms?” Goodman attempts to answer this, but Bowie seems far from satisfied at the end saying, “Interesting. Thank you very much. I understand your point of view.”
Bowie was a voice for all and no one else. His long career demonstrated his passion towards his art. In a 1974 Rolling Stone interview with William S. Burroughs, Bowie gives an account of Ziggy, stating that, “[Ziggy] takes himself up to incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples.” While David Bowie, the man, might have died, one can be assured that David Bowie, the artist, will be kept alive.