It has taken me awhile to put down what I wanted to say about David Bowie. The main reason being what I write sounds slightly negative even though I was fan of many of his records.
For starters, I think David Bowie was a great popularizer, a great synthesizer of existing musical trends that were underground. Glam started with T Rex and both Marc Bolan and Roxy Music were more interesting musically and more to my preference, meant more to me personally but it was Bowie that made it big internationally. The German music scene was vibrant and thrilling in the mid 70’s and Bowie took what he wanted from it to make classic music.
That is not to say Bowie did not make music that was interesting or innovative or powerful in its own way. He wasn’t Nirvana pushed into milking an alternative scene whoring it out with dull commercialized tunes. Bowie was at his best musically when he was in transition from one musical identity to another, shifting scenes. My favorite album (and song) is an example of this - STATION TO STATION. The title track is powerful, complex. I’m a sucker for a song that changes melodies halfway throughout. The intro is amazing – one of the best of all time. Other favorite Bowie albums – HUNKY DORY, EARTHLING, SCARY MONSTERS, HEROES. I think everything he did up to the early 1980’s is great or near great. I am NOT a fan at all of the LET’S DANCE era which always seemed like a pathetic sell-out – Bowie now copying those who copied him. However I think some of his 90’s – early 2000’s records were also quite good.
There are a lot of things Bowie was famous for but one thing that is hardly mentioned is songwriting. I was listening to random Bowie songs last night and couldn’t recall who wrote what so checked the credits. Most if not all of his best songs during arguably his best period 1970 to 1980 were written by him. Most of the records he released during this period are 70% to 80% sole Bowie compositions not to mention songs he wrote for other artists such as All the Young Dudes (always a favorite of mine). When you consider the quality of the songs he was producing, that’s quite amazing!
Bowie also meant a lot as the central figure in a very large cult of fans. On ZIGGY STARDUST in particular on songs like Rock and Roll Suicide (“You are not alone”) Bowie forged a relationship with his audience, kind of like “I am one of you”. I’ve seen a lot of people say that they felt like misfits until Bowie first appeared (separated by gender/sexuality, lack of interest in a material society or even just having an open mind) and they finally found someone they could connect to. I am not trying to turn this into bashing America or the West in general but that kind of aloneness, opulence everywhere, too much freedom but no skills or resources to grab it is even more frustrating I imagine than being in a much more conservative country. I think Morrissey’s fans have similar but even more intense feelings (I should know – I am one ).
I’ve recently read a lot of people calling Bowie post-mortem The Beatles of the 70’s. In the 70’s he made one great record after anther although the music sometimes didn’t necessarily change as much as his appearance. He was constantly growing, trying to expand his musical boundaries.
So RIP David Bowie....Sad to say I don’t think we’ll see someone of his musical curiosity and desire to do different things again. The economy as it relates to music has totally changed. Depressing but at least we have his records.