The Alien and The Earthling
David Bowie has exited Planet Earth and is, quite possibly, rocking another solar system right now.
by Sam Lal
By the time his creative collaboration with photographer Brian Duffy resulted in the iconic red-lightning-bolt-across-the-face album cover at the turn of the Seventies, David Bowie had already ushered in a creative zeitgeist that firmly established him as one of the most intriguing musical shapeshifters of his era.
A prolific singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Bowie had completed his sixth album in as many years since kick-starting his career with an eponymous debut in 1967 and Aladdin Sane (the aforementioned lightning bolt blitzkrieg) was, in many ways, the beginning of a brand new trajectory.
It says much about the depth of the man’s creative oeuvre that Aladdin Sane (yes, it is supposed to be a word play on A Lad Insane), hailed by Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean DeLeo as one of his favourite albums of all time, was preceded by ground-breaking releases of the stature of Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was followed by Station To Station, Heroes and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
Every album from Bowie who, incidentally, was known to his parents as David Robert Jones and who took his famous surname from the knife developed by American pioneer Jim Bowie, has been an influence on every subsequent generation.
Nirvana made Seattle and subsequently, the world, groove to ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and the glam rock revolution has never, ever, sought to downplay the debt of gratitude it owes to Ziggy Stardust.
There is a fierce sense of individuality that informs all of Bowie’s music not the least of which manifested itself in the fact that he chose to wear a dress for the cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’. It was a startling move, because it came at a time when rock n’ roll was moving beyond the experimental phase of the Sixties and was starting to acquire an unapologetically testosterone-fuelled edge.
Author David Buckley has described the chameleon-like David Bowie persona as a phenomenon that “challenged the very core belief of the music of its day and subverted the whole notion of what it was to be a rock star.”
Driven by a restless creativity that saw him move from the acoustic folk rock sensibility of Space Oddity to the harder-edged sounds of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was also the Thin White Duke of soul funk, a hat he donned with such conviction that he became one of the first white artistes to appear on the American show, Soul Train.
“For anyone involved in music, David Bowie was one of the points of reference for absolutely everything,” Coldplay drummer Will Champion has famously said. The experimentalism wasn’t selfishly self-indulgent either, because while Bowie always made the music he wanted to make, he is also one of the biggest selling artistes of all time with a tally of 140 million albums
sold... and counting!
That is the reason why it is very hard to accept the fact that this multi-faceted artistic force is no longer one of the living. Champion described the news of his death as “quite disorienting” and while statistics might state that David Bowie breathed his last on January 10, 2016, it somehow seems as if it is another phase in the career of a man who had an extraordinary lust for life. It is almost as if Bowie has checked out of the planet in much the same way as he arrived on it from Mars; an avatar that would spawn a genre.
“His death was no different from his life—a work of art,” says longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti. “He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”