D avid Bowie left this Earth three years ago today (10 January) and he would have turned 72 on Tuesday (8 January). But of all the musical legends who have died in the last decade, Bowie feels strangely present and alive, thanks to both the internet and the alternative worlds he created which still exist for his fans. I imagine most people discovered, or will discover, Bowie as teenagers, and to us he said this: you can be who you want. You don’t have to be this way or that way, this kind of boy or that kind of girl. You can be a kook, or a rebel, or quiet and reclusive. You can have mousy brown hair, or fiery red hair, or a golden orb on your forehead. And then you can change.For his cultural contribution and influence went far beyond the riffs, the melodies and the chords.
From the first single he released after changing his name from David Jones to David Bowie – the glorious “Can’t Help Thinking About Me”, which he described as a “beautiful piece of solipsism” – Bowie explored existentialism and the self, both within and outside of Earth’s cultural binaries, but also on a cosmic scale, with his obsession with alien life and science fiction. He explored, confronted and challenged ideas and tropes about identity and transformation, the central concerns of many adolescents.For monthIn breaking his own “suburban curse”, as he put it, Bowie ushered multiple generations of people to do the same. Often, he wrote about loneliness and isolation, a feeling of falling to Earth and not really knowing what’s going on, and either leaving it there and revelling in nihilism or exploring its treatment: connection.Has any other artist transmitted more creative freedom to their fans? Or had something more meaningful or profound to say about identity? Bowie took himself and his life seriously as a subject, but, crucially, avoided groan-inducing pretension by spiking his art and commentary with humour and silliness (“The Laughing Gnome”, anyone?). He was also deeply self-aware.
He said he started wearing costumes because he wasn’t sure if he even had a personality. “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.”Essentially, his legacy lives on because he changed the way people felt about themselves and the world. And not in a flash-in-a-pan way.
When swayed here and there by this and that, I often think of his singularity and force, and ape his spirit to forge ahead. Be more Bowie.
For me, there are no other artists I summon in this way, and I imagine I will do so in perpetuity.
For many of the ideas and values we fold into ourselves in adolescence run through us like writing in a stick of rock..