The Day the Music Died

David Bowie Beaten by Cancer at 69

I managed to avoid the news today, until early evening. When I did hear it, it could hardly have been more shocking. David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, had died. I am still reeling as I write this.

David Bowie

I don’t know how widely it was known that Bowie had been suffering with cancer for 18 months, but it had totally escaped my notice and the news of his death came as a total shock to me.

David Bowie really made it big during my school days, so many of my contemporaries worshipped him. I considered myself more of a hard rock fan and I struggled with his androgyny and showmanship, at the time. It was a bit too over the top for my taste. But there was no doubting the quality of the music and his innovation.

Eventually I came to terms with my reservations and bought almost all of his albums and saw him live twice, once from outside of an open air gig in Perth, when I couldn’t get a ticket.

David Bowie in a dress

David Bowie in a dress, too much for some young men to deal with.

In my school days he was Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane and I remember vividly a crowd of school friends going to see him at the Hammersmith Odeon (now known as the Apollo) when he announced he was retiring. They were still inconsolable when they returned to school.

It’s a well worn cliché to say that David Bowie changed all the time, but none the less true. Shortly after he ditched The Spiders from Mars, including Mick Ronson, who many believe did far more than arrange the songs from his space age period, Bowie took a dip into soul music, with the Young Americans album.

That album featured Luther Vandross, prominently, on backing vocals, long before many of us had heard of him. Not to mention a certain John Lennon, who had by then decamped to New York, on a couple of tracks.

The number of prominent musicians who wanted to and did work with David Bowie pretty much covers the length and breadth of popular music of the last half century. Messages and condolences have flooded in from all corners of music today, giving us a strong reminder that the most successful musicians of the golden age of British rock (the ’60s and ’70s) were a close knit club. I’ve already seen notices from Queen, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page, Mott the Hoople, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton. Incidentally Clapton took the title of his 2013 album, Old Sock, from a term of endearment that Bowie used for him.

Of course he never limited himself to working with British musicians. Famously he moved to Europe in the mid 70′s and recorded the Berlin Trilogy of albums, Low, Heroes and Lodger, which were heavily influenced by German minimalist, ambient music.

David Bowie Stevie Ray Vaughan Nile Rodgers

David Bowie with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Nile Rodgers

He wrote and produced music for other artists, that proved to be their most successful, including, but not limited to, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople and was never adverse to spotting up and coming talent and collaborating with them. Texas blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan, played on the Let’s Dance album, which was co-produced by Chic‘s Nile Rodgers and generated his biggest selling singles, including the title track, Modern Love and China Girl.

Bowie continued making diverse music in to the turn of the century, with Tin Machine and famous collaborations with Queen and Mick Jagger, while also acting in films and on Broadway, painting and writing. Early in the new millennium, after a heart attack, Bowie took a break from music that lasted until 2013, when he released The Next Day, which proved to be the fastest selling album at the time and his first UK number one album since 1993. Only last week, he released his final work, Blackstar.

Absolute tomes have been written about David Bowie‘s output, his influence on other musicians, the influences that he drew on and his diversity. I find it hard to come up with a term big enough to explain the huge loss that his passing is to the music world, but I am far from alone in that. In a short recent period, where some notable names have left us, I would say that this is probably the biggest loss in music since the aforementioned John Lennon was taken from us in 1980.

Rest in peace David, but we know that you’ll be back in another guise pretty soon.

By Max Power
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