Living Legends: David Bowie

Dear Reader,

In light of his upcoming LP release “The Next Day”,  I have decided to focus on an artist I am rapidly becoming a fan of: David Bowie. Bowie, for me, has been one of those artists that I didn’t know I knew about him until I knew about him. In less convoluted language, I had heard many of his famous songs on many occasions (such as the classics “Changes” and “Wild is the Wind”), but I would never have been able to tell you who the artist of these songs was—much less that the artist was the same person. It’s really only been recently that I have been exploring his entire repertoire. And, I must say, I am thoroughly impressed.

Perhaps it is just me, but I love people that have no grounded style. David Bowie completely lacks this quality, of which I couldn’t be happier. Perhaps this also demands clarification. When I speak of style, I mean artistic style; the themes and the techniques that the artist draws upon. There are some artists that have great, fixed styles. You can listen to one of their songs and you will have, essentially, listened to all of the songs in their catalogue. The style and genre that the artist uses is always repeated and is not going to change. A country-western singer with a fixed style of a deep husky voice and mournful lyrics, for example, is not suddenly going to do an upbeat rap song about puppies being born (although, really, who would?). And I love artists that know who they are and do not feel a need to change their style. If it works for them, great. But there is something extra special, extra magical, about artists who can transform themselves. Bowie has this magic.

Viewing his career so far, it is hard to believe that all of this has come from the same man. Of course one remembers the character of Ziggy Stardust, but what about Aladdin Sane? Being a Space Oddity? Singing in a children’s special? Going off to Berlin and becoming the anonymous star at a large height of popularity? Being the Goblin King and frightening and entertaining kids? Playing the role, until quite recently, of the unofficially retired rock legend? Bowie started his musical fascination with Elvis Presley, of which the song “Tutti Frutti” made Bowie swore that he had “heard God”. From there, he’s gone on to be part of so many great musical experiences. The one consistent thing that seems to drive him is the music. It’s always about the music. Not the way that he played it last time or the way that was most popular or that sold the most records or earned the most applause from critics. For Bowie, his current music informs his style, and not the other way around. Bowie does not just perform music, but becomes an integral part of its foundation. If this means being Ziggy Stardust, redheaded alien from space, so be it. If it means being toned down and conservative in dress and voice, so be it. Bowie switches tastes and musical ideas the same way that all humans do: as a result of expanded time and experience. He does not act on the commercial need to stay the same because he recognizes when he is changing and allows his art to monitor and respond to those changes (or so I imagine. I don’t wish to be one of those writers who claims to be best friends with a subject they have never met, much less had a single conversation with).

Not only this, but he can actually pull it off. When I listen to David Bowie doing soul, for example, I do not hear a David Bowie attempt at soul, but a total and complete version of the song. Take his rendition of “Wild is the Wind”, for example. While Nina Simone delivers an exemplary version of it, Bowie makes it his own with his deep vocals and the sense of blue-jeaned longing he injects into his voice. What is further is that this is the last song on Station to Station album, a song which comes after thirty minutes of pure, convincing, rebel-rock. This seemingly effortless transition is further found on later records as well, such as 2002’s Heathen.

Of course, one must also mention that Bowie is not just a singer. He also writes most of his songs and is a multi-instrumentalist, playing the guitar, keyboards, harmonica, saxophone, viola, cello, koto, and percussion (according to Wikipedia, which I trust is heavily guarded by Bowie fans).

And while other artists may decay with age, especially those with so many talents behind them, Bowie shows no signs of crumbling. Here’s hoping (or knowing) that his new album will be a further spectacular example of how much he can stretch himself, and—more importantly—what genuine music he can deliver to all those ready to listen and emerge themselves in his art.

If you have any thoughts about David Bowie you want to share, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Sincerely,

Jumbled Writer

P.S. This, in no way, is a paid endorsement. I write this purely out of personal enthusiasm.

*Photo courtesy of writeonnewjersey.com.

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20 Responses to Living Legends: David Bowie

  1. I do not normally listen to his type of music but I too have enjoyed many David Bowie songs. Definitely classic and will never go out of style. Thanks for the article.

    • Glad to see you get something out of Bowie’s work. He sometimes has that effect, of being rock for those who don’t like rock, or soul for those who don’t like soul, and so on. Thanks for stopping by!
      –JW

  2. I was never a huge David Bowie fan, but I enjoyed lots of his songs. This article reminded me of how many songs of his I do like so maybe I’m a bigger fan than I thought!

  3. He also has an incredible mastery over sound. I do a bit of home recording of my own stuff, so can appreciate just how talented he is in that way (and, of course, the musicians who work with him). It’s the little blips, swells and swirls in this lp that I also find interesting.

    I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you are a younger person discovering his work for the first time. That’s cool. It’s neat for me, at age 50, to hear about that. I remember when I was discovering his stuff for the first time. Always fun and interesting.

    At the same time, I like electronica, ibiza and chill music. I think that’s where the future is headed. Bowie has ventured into this too.

    • Indeed, I am younger and have just started really researching him. I’ve been going through all the albums I can find (thank goodness for places like the library) and the Bowie exposures are great, especially when going in chronological order to see his progression. I will be sure to pay more attention to the way that he controls his sound. Interesting idea on the future of music. I can’t say too much about that, as much of my interest usually comes in music from earlier decades.
      –JW

  4. Bowie and his massive discography is eternally frustrating to me. In the ’70’s, starting I believe with the amazing The Man Who Sold The World and ending in early 1980 with Scary Monsters, the man could do no wrong. He would, as one of your earlier comments said, was able to synthesize the ‘cool’ underground sounds into something his very own. But something changed and when Bowie started following the trends (mid ’80’s) I lost interest. I picked it back up with Heathen, and Hours, and now again with his newest, which is actually quite good, but not even close in quality to his ’70’s heyday. Call me a curmudgeonly old cliched music snob, but I really feel it’s true. Great blog by the way. If you’ve just started with Bowie you are certainly in for a treat!

    Uncle E
    500 Reasons The 80’s Didn’t Suck
    Uncle E’s Musical Nightmare

    • Hey, if that’s the way you see it, then it’s a valid opinion. I have not followed him for as many years as you have, so I don’t have that same listener relationship. It does seem like a lot of artists reach a certain point at which they are in their peak, and then the music does decline. Yet, with Bowie, I hear many saying that his newest is just like his 70s work. I suppose it is all subjective in the end.
      –JW

  5. Thanks for your visit and liking my post “365 Days Gone By”. David Bowie is one of my favourites, on and off. But one of my most favourites involving him is the little intro part at the beginning of “The Snowman”. OH and thanks for you comments. 9 solid hours last night! Thank goodness for weekends!

    • No problem. Your blog was great. Thanks for visiting mine. It’s fun to see that we have similar tastes. And good for you for getting more sleep! Being rested can really impact your life in positive ways.
      –JW

  6. You hit home, here. David Bowie was THE artist I listened to when I was a student. His music being timeless I am very happy to see a new CD out. Thank you for sharing your passion for this great artist, Jumbled Writer.

  7. I liked Bowie before it was cool to like Bowie (obligatory hipster statement)… Good article on a great artist. Thanks for popping by my blog, and best of luck with your novel and other writing!

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