David Bowie was a one-off, larger than life figure

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David Bowie, who passed away January 10, 2016 at sixty-nine year old, was a one-off. Throughout the lives of many people, he remained a larger than life figure. He was part and parcel of a whole generation’s musical upbringing.

Born David Robert Jones in 1947 in Brixton, London, it took him time and perseverance to make it in the world of pop music, but make it he did. With a succession of flamboyant — sometime verging on ludicrous – characters, he epitomised the fantasy side of pop music culture, whilst always maintaining a strong individuality and showing from the start an understanding of the music. And he was a musician, playing guitar, sax and singing, and influenced by Presley, Domino and Chuck Berry.

The saxophone was his first instrument and he played with a succession of bands during his early career. His first album and single failed to meet success but he persevered and after a string of influential meetings with people who influenced him in terms of his presentation and emotional expression, he had success with the single, “Space Oddity.” Bowie unleashed the first of several characters onto the stage in 1972 with the androgynous Ziggy Stardust. He found success in the US with his album Young Americans and this had a different sound and feel to his previous music.

Bowie continued to keep one step ahead of the game, continually re-inventing himself, creating characters and complex personas to go with them. He collaborated with Brian Eno on more than one occasion, which gave his mid-period music a heavily electronica influenced feel. His UK album hits included Scary Monsters, Heroes and Low. His singles included “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure” (in collaboration with Queen), “Let’s Dance,” “Wild is The Wind” and many more. The discography speaks for itself but more than that, Bowie acted, directed, had parts in TV productions and maintained an artistic directive which made his music constantly a surprise, sometimes a revelation and always individual. A life long member of the Musicians Union, Bowie always maintained solidarity with other musicians in ways well beyond those high profile, one-time collaborations.

To say he was successful is an understatement and to say he influenced many lives is also an understatement. There is simply no way of summing up the ways Bowie influenced music and lives. He achieved 9 platinum, 11 gold and 8 silver album awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 1996.

One of the great things about Bowie is as he aged, he matured and changed his music accordingly. Not only adjusting to the fashions, trends and musical waves which he understood and procured from numerous travels and an interest in the wider world but he had an uncanny knack of always producing something which was different, surprising yet stamped uniquely with trademarks which were Bowie’s own. His voice, although not the strongest of instruments, was used to its full range and he surrounded himself with musicians and made collaborations with other artists which seemed to always hit the right commercial button. His last album, Blackstar has many jazz references, but it is not ‘jazz’ as such. He used musicians of high caliber to put across the jazzy accents yet the album is so distinctly Bowie, it could be no-one else.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: See Sammy Stein’s full review of David Bowie’s incredible final album, ‘Blackstar’.]

His short-lived but carefully thought out characters will live on: Ziggy, the Thin White Duke but later, just was simply Bowie, still highly visual and verging on the weird but much more accessible and feeling no need to don exotic clothes or theatrical make-up.

There will be numerous attempts to state what Bowie meant to music, fashion, expression and even total selfless immersion in his art but none will completely cover it, nowhere near. Even his illness was a well-kept secret and his death a surprise to many. The timely release of the single “Lazarus” could even be thought of as a gift to fans — the hope of rising from the dead — but to analyse the thoughts of this extraordinary icon is impossible.

He will be missed by many, his will be often thought of and he will often be wondered about but at the end, Bowie was also extraordinarily talented, extraordinarily well-placed to take advantage of many opportunities and support when it was offered, determined enough to ride out alienation when the public disliked changes in his style and commercially aware enough to know what was likely to be a hit. In short, Bowie was simply Bowie and perhaps that is enough.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein

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