David Bowie: An Obituary
by Oliver Rose
Three days ago, David Bowie released ★. I wrote the PearShaped review the day after, and since then, I must have listened to the LP four or five times through. I could never have anticipated writing on the subject of his passing so soon after the release of such a vibrant and ephemeral record. Even now, writing this, I’m lost for words. Such is the paralysis felt by the world, as musicians lament the loss of their friend and influence, and critics sit disbelievingly before the confused reviews they wrote mere days ago, in tears at the sudden clarity of that once-cryptic, now-final record. However, dismayed as I am to consider the finality of it all, one can’t help but look back on Bowie’s exceptional career and smile – to quote the tribute shared by John Grant this morning, “What a life”.
David Bowie was born in Brixton on January 8th 1947 and quickly demonstrated a propensity for musical greatness, mastering the recorder at a young age, before moving on to learn saxophone, and later, guitar. It was on hearing Tutti Frutti that Bowie would claim he had “heard God”, a moment that led ultimately, to his pursuit of music professionally. Forming his first band at the age of 15, Bowie would, by the end of the 1960s, record his first two albums, Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold the World, records indebted to the contemporary folk and rock influences such as Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground. Perhaps most note-worthily, he became the androgynous poster-they of glam rock in the early 1970s, with a string of excellent albums (Hunky Dory, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, and Aladdin Sane) that confirmed Bowie’s stellar abilities as a song-writer for their intricate chord structures, vocal complexities and distorted, proto-punk pop sensibilities.
In the latter 70s, through to the late 90s and early 2000s, Bowie enjoyed a period of musical experimentation and personal rehabilitation, turning his back on the drugs of his early years, and moving forward by way of numerous aesthetic reinventions, from the Station To Station years as the Thin White Duke, to the heavily electronic LPs and ginger quiff of his Earthling period. Despite retiring from live performance in 2004, following an on-stage heart attack, Bowie made an entirely unexpected comeback in 2013 with The Next Day, his first new music in a decade and a reincarnation of the enigmatic artist as a postmodern icon, a style continued through into ★, his twenty-fifth studio album.
Bowie was a driven musician and actor, and one without compromise in the creation of his art: be it his passionate Broadway portrayal of John Merrick in 1979’s The Elephant Man, or his hilarious cameo in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, here was a man who gave his work his all. His conscientious outlook also afforded him fruitful and lifelong relationships with musical heroes such as Lou Reed and producer Tony Visconti. Bowie’s style was undiminished, his pristine aestheticism, unparalleled. He was the artist’s artist. His impression will never be lost.
It is almost impossible to describe the feeling I had this morning, when I woke up to hear that my hero had passed away. It’s totally torn the rug out from under my feet. My head spins with early memories of listening to Starman with my Dad, of finding my dream boot-fair purchase in a Maidstone field last summer – the Ziggy LP (and a snatch at £1). An equally distressed friend of mine mused earlier today how the very idea that this relentlessly regenerative figure might die has always seemed so unthinkable. I had to agree. Without him, the stars look very different today.
David Robert Jones, singer, song-writer and actor, born January 8 1947, died January 10, 2016, following an eighteen-month battle with cancer. He was sixty-nine years old. He is survived by his second wife, Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid and children Duncan Jones and Alexandria Zahra Jones.