I suspect that I’m not the only person who checked Snopes to verify the Thin White Duke’s passing. But I’m one of the few who will admit it. The sad news blanketing my social media feeds turned out to be true. David Bowie has died at the age of 69.
Another remarkable thing in this day and age of instantaneous communication is that Bowie’s 18 month long bout with cancer was kept a secret. He was one of the least anonymous people imaginable. but he also zealously guarded his privacy. It was a difficult balancing act but he somehow pulled it off.
The very first time I saw Bowie on my teevee screen, I knew he was going to be a star. There was an unearthly quality to his appearance that was in stark contrast to the humility he often showed. He was born David Jones, and started his career as Davey Jones but changed his name to Bowie because he didn’t want to Monkee around with his career. Then there’s the story of his legendary appearance on a Bing Crosby Christmas special. It took place when the Ziggy Stardust character was still his main public image. When contacted by Der Bingle’s people, Bowie assured them that he would appear as himself. He told them he wanted Crosby to be comfortable with his appearance because he “respected, admired, and revered” the older star. Pure class.
Bowie threw a series of personas and musical styles at the public over his nearly 50 year career. All of them seemed to work. He had fans among prog rock people, dance music people, punk rockers; you name it they liked Bowie. He may have been one of the last universally loved and respected pop stars, which is quite a feat in the internet snark era.
Taking a leaf out of the Warren Zevon playbook, Bowie even recorded and released an album full of songs foreshadowing his own death. Blackstar came out a mere three days before his passing. One song in particular sent shivers up my spine this morning. It’s called Lazarus and the video depicts a haggard and frail Bowie in bed and then stumbling about. It’s hard to watch but its powerful stuff:
Bowie was also a fine actor but it was hard for him to be a character actor because of his extreme charisma. He didn’t do many films but the ones he did were cherce. My personal favorite was Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth; a title that is uniquely evocative today. David Bowie had an unearthly talent and it took death to bring him back to earth.
I’m going to finish with what really matters, his music. Although some of his best-loved song such as Heroes and Changes are among my all-time favorite tunes, I’m going to post a few semi-obscurities as well as a few numbahs that flat-out rock instead.
Finally, an oddball choice to conclude this tribute. A song from Pin Ups written by Bowie’s fellow English eccentric Syd Barrett and originally recorded by Pink Floyd:
I may have to check Snopes one more time just in case this is a hoax. I know it’s not and that the Thin White Duke has met the Grim Reaper. He will be missed.