Monday, January 11, 2016

"In the event that this fantastic voyage should turn to erosion" -- On the Eternally Extraordinary David Bowie

David Bowie, Rosemont Theater, January 2004. Photo Credit unknown.
David Bowie just seemed like the coolest guy.

I don't mean because he was a legendary rock star, whose musical brilliance ran far deeper than I initially, or even long, knew--as I wrote about in a tribute for his 64th birthday (and reposted on his 65th).

And though my regard for his ceaseless and visionary creativity--as documented in the David Bowie Is exhibit I saw in both 2013 and 2014 and reviewed here--knows no bounds, and was reiterated just last Friday on his 69th birthday, when he released a brilliant new album, Blackstar, only 2 days before he would succumb to cancer, which means he devoted his dying days to new artistic life, this isn't really what I'm referencing.

Sure, Bowie fused art and theater and fashion and visual imagery and alternative personas into popular music like no one before him, and his shape-shifting personas of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke and more made it cool to appreciate, admire, accept and embrace weirdness and outlandishness and gayness and androgyny and bisexuality and theatricality and alienation and misfits and Muppets and interracial marriage and restlessness and uncertainty and reinvention and searching for one's true self, perhaps behind disguises.

Not only was he one of my favorite musical artists of all-time--and second favorite solo act behind just Bruce Springsteen--but he acted on Broadway and in movies, bridging multiple mediums like few ever have. And forever inspired by his high school art teacher, who happened to be Peter Frampton's father, Bowie oversaw every aspect of his multifaceted presence, from concert stage designs & fashions to album covers to music videos, including his staggering way of saying goodbye, "Lazarus,"  released just last Thursday.

Somehow this immortal artist was able to forestall his death--said to have come after 18 months of bravely battling cancer, though other ill health rumors have existed with Bowie living largely outside the limelight for nearly 10 years--until he could foretell it in a new song & video, have his first official theatrical creation (also titled Lazarus) open off-Broadway and celebrate his 69th birthday with the release of a rather adventurous, highly acclaimed new album.

Long wondering "How and where is Bowie?" after a 2004 heart attack curtailed his touring career, I was ecstatically astounded on his 66th birthday in 2013 when--with no advance warning in the age of social media--he released his first song in 10 years, "Where Are We Now?" and announced a new album, The Next Day, which I would name my favorite of that year.

So while I've long had an uneasy notion that the man who fell to Earth might not be long for it, just Friday I was again reveling in a new David Bowie album, with thoughts that his appearing in the "Lazarus" video meant that he must be doing relatively well.

Sadly I was wrong.

Unable to readily fall asleep last night, I found myself checking Facebook at 1:15am and could not believe the news that rendered the Golden Globes fashion and gossip crap even triter than it had been a few hours earlier.

To paraphrase Bowie's great 1971 song, "Life on Mars"--a favorite along with about 100 others, from the well-known ("Rebel Rebel," "Changes") to the obscure ("Joe the Lion," 1964's "Liza Jane" when he was still known as Davie Jones)--I hoped I was "walking in a sunken dream."

But I wasn't.

After listening to several songs, reading tributes, shedding tears and finally falling asleep, I awoke to find it still true.

The "Starman," Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, etc., etc., but most of all, David Bowie--or perhaps David Jones--is gone, at least from our mortal world.

"Planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do,"--as Bowie sang on his first hit, "Space Oddity"--and as I posted on Facebook earlier:
Bowie was singular. We will never see anyone like him again. He was Elvis and Picasso and Bertold Brecht rolled into one, and I think the world senses a loss of genius that won't be replaced.

Like Elvis, Dylan and the Beatles--and maybe even more so--he essentially influenced everyone who came after.
When Elvis and John Lennon died, I hadn't yet developed the esteem I have now for Bowie. Other celeb deaths have hit me hard; Kurt Cobain certainly, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams, even Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. But those all involved a sense of regret; here the sorrow is solely based on appreciation, and both are deep.
But all of this doesn't explain why David Bowie just seemed like the coolest guy.

Nor does his being among the first musicians to champion Bruce Springsteen (with early covers of "Growin' Up" and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City") or introduce me and much of the world to Stevie Ray Vaughan (who played on the Let's Dance album) or hung out with Andy Warhol and Lou Reed or lived with Iggy Pop or gave "All the Young Dudes" to Mott the Hoople or worked with Jim Henson or acted with Catherine Deneuve or married Angie and Iman or slept with Mick Jagger or made great, understated albums late in his career like Heathen and Reality and The Next Day and Blackstar that didn't try to replicate the AOR glories of his youth.

While my fandom will forever run deep, I am not extolling David Bowie because I  first came to own ChangesOneBowie on vinyl by the age of 12 or because his show at Dodger Stadium in 1990 was the first concert I attended after moving to L.A.--I still rue missing chances to see Bowie in '83 and '87--or because after seeing him in January 2004 at the relatively intimate Rosemont Theatre, I went again to the next show and then again when he came to Milwaukee that May.

No, while the music and visual stylings and acting and overall artistry of David Bowie has long enriched my life and forever will, what I'll remember most is, more literally, just how cool he seemed.

Onstage at the Rosemont Theatre, where I attended in awe of one of the world's greatest--and purportedly richest--rock stars, a visionary, a genius, a man who had cloaked himself in numerous personas and essentially defined "edgy," Bowie came off as gracious, warm, affable and comfortable in his own skin as any performer I've ever seen. 

And I've seen thousands.

There was no pretense, no pandering, no smugness, no megalomania, obvious ego or star affectations.

There was just David Bowie engagingly addressing the audience as if he were in a living room with friends.

And just happened to be the coolest guy you ever would want to know.

"I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day"

-- From "Heroes," by one of mine
    David Bowie, Jan. 8, 1947-Jan. 10, 2016

(Blog title quote from "Fantastic Voyage," 1979)

 Here's a full David Bowie concert from New York in late 2003, just a month before I saw him twice in Rosemont and found him tremendously personable:

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