Since Christmas, music in the afterlife has got a lot cooler. We’ve lost Lemmy, Natalie Cole, John Bradbury of the Specials and now, perhaps most significantly of all, David Bowie. Just days ago, the Internet blew up at the release of Blackstar, his first studio album since 2013. Today, the Internet was again talking about Bowie, this time filling with tributes from friends, colleagues, and his legions of fans. Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein summed up how many felt:
It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone. #DavidBowie
— Carrie Brownstein (@Carrie_Rachel) January 11, 2016
Iggy Pop, who worked in collaboration with Bowie, paid a personal tribute to his friend:
MESSAGE FROM IGGY: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is. – Iggy Pop” — Iggy Pop (@IggyPop) January 11, 2016
With news of Bowie’s death after an 18-month battle with liver cancer, final album Blackstar gains greater significance:
He faced death and morphed it into art. A black star. What could be more beautiful than that.
— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) January 11, 2016
His long-time producer Tony Visconti has described the album as a “parting gift” from the artist, with songs like Lazarus seeming particularly poignant at this time:
“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now”
Bowie first came to major public attention in 1969 with the song Space Oddity, and his music became the soundtrack to much of the 1970s and ’80s. Although his later work gained less popular acclaim, Bowie never rested on his laurels, tackling diverse genres from soul to industrial. Fame itself was never something he seemed entirely comfortable with, fearing that commercial success rarely encouraged great art: “Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.” Boring was not in his nature though, and his influence went far beyond the realm of music. One of Bowie’s most significant roles was as an LGBT icon, thanks to his sexual ambiguity and androgynous appearance. At a time when culture was rarely diverse, the character of Ziggy Stardust seemed to almost literally come from another planet, and he continued to reinvent himself and his music throughout his career.
So, as we face up to a world without the Thin White Duke, the best tribute we can give is to listen to and share his music, and to reflect on how much his influence has permeated popular culture. In his own words: I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, “Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.” Few artists have ever come so close.
Cover Sonia Golemme