Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - RIP

It was sadly announced that David Bowie has unexpectedly died from cancer, which he had not disclosed to the public. His sudden departure comes two days after the release of his latest and now last album Blackstar. He was 69 years old.

It's hard to sum up everything Bowie accomplished in this world, as he had a profound effect in pop culture and nearly every aspect of art. Whether it was music, film, or fashion ("turn to the left"), he boldly made his own personal statement or showed a new facet of himself, as he kept reinventing himself up to today.

He broke through in 1969 with his landmark tune "Space Oddity". A rock song that was way too avant-garde at the height of psychedelia and the hippie movement, it would help shape the entire 70's scene for rock music. He followed it up with the album The Man Who Sold The World; though it is more known for its title track and how it would later be popularized by Nirvana, the album proved to be a major step forward for the new artist due to its original cover art. Laying in a colorful dress and made up to underline his androgynous features, it struck a cord with critics and made his stardom even more bigger. His fluid sexual look and multiple tones of rock would return with Hunky Dory, considered one of his absolute best albums, thanks to "Changes" and "Life on Mars?"

And then, he came to Earth. Bowie premiered the character of Ziggy Stardust in 1972 and he become even more popular. Backed up by his new backing band The Spiders From Mars and relishing every aspect of glam rock, he released the famed The Rise and Fall... album, toured all over England and finally made his existence more known over in the United States.

Two years later, he dropped the Ziggy gimmick, moved to the States, and moved his sound to soul. He still would dapple his toes in glam rock, such as the delectable "Rebel Rebel", but he was more in love with what he termed as "plastic soul", aka soul music perfected by a white male singer. Young Americans gave him his first no. 1 on the Billboard charts with "Fame" and made him a true crossover superstar, even allowing him to famously appear on Soul Train. His huge success would come at a great cost, though: ensuing legal battles, a hard addiction to cocaine, and the short shelf-life of his new character "The Thin White Duke" (an Aryan-influenced persona that led to an infamous public Nazi salute) all hurt his stardom.

Bowie cleaned himself up around 1976 and begin to experiment more, both in music and other forms of art. His musical taste moved more towards the sounds of electronic, best shown in a series of albums he produced while in Berlin and the song "Heroes". But it was on a different stage at this time that Bowie would make a far more lasting impact. He was strangely invited to participate in Bing Crosby's Christmas television special, which would air mere weeks before the famed crooner's own death. The mismatched pair came together to belt out the beautiful "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth", which is now a major staple during the holiday season and considered one of the very few overall acclaimed Christmas songs.

The 80's wouldn't have been amazing at all without Bowie. His love for the electronic sound in the late 70's would later morph into new wave, which he helped popularized and be a flag-bearer for throughout the new decade. It first started with "Ashes to Ashes", a hauntingly dark rock tune that may not have been a great hit (at least in the U.S.) but became famous thanks to a little thing called a music video. Donning an opera clown outfit and waddling through surreal imagery and special effects, the video was hailed as a masterpiece and would be played quite often on a new start-up television channel called MTV.

After coming back to the charts with "Under Pressure", a duet with rock gods Queen, Bowie unleashed Let's Dance. One of the signature albums of the decade, it gave us the title track (another #1 for him), "Modern Love" and "China Girl", three heavyweight pop songs that dominated the public consciousness. This would be the last peak period for the more-than-accomplished singer. He would continue to chart often (including the ill-made "Dancing In The Streets" duet with Mick Jagger), make more striking music videos, and change up his sound again and again into the 90's and beyond but there was nothing else he needed to do. Except to rule the silver screen some more.

Bowie made his grand entrance to the world of cinema in 1976 with The Man Who Fell From Earth, playing the titular role in Nicholas Roeg's surreal take of the 1963 sci-fi novel. Though it was virtually unseen at the time and many lucky critics weren't enamored with it, the film has since grown in cult status. He shied away from further big film roles until 1983, when he starred in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Hunger; the former was directed by Japanese iconoclast Nagisa Oshima and featured what is considered his best role, while the latter was helmed by Tony Scott and has risen from its initial bad reviews to be a cult gem. Three years later, he once again starred in two major films: Bowie helped make Julien Temple's Absolute Beginners another cult title but it was his role as The Goblin King in Labyrinth that has stood the test of time. Jim Henson's labor of love was enhanced significantly by Bowie, who's jovially evil persona made him a delight for kids and who's sexy yet forbidden demeanor, coupled with a particularly big codpiece, help make many a growing girl experience certain weird feelings. Bowie would retreat to smaller supporting roles in further films. Highlights of this era include: his dramatic turn as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, Andy Warhol in the indie biopic Basquiat, a significant cameo in Zoolander, and playing the Internet's favorite American scientist Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.

I could on and on about how amazing he was, the fantastic music he produced and sung, his memorable participation in memorial concerts, and how his songs were put to great use in films such as Cat People, Mauvais Sang, and Frances Ha. But really, you should open your eyes and ears right now and take in any of his art.

He will sorely be missed.

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