David Bowie was a rock god for misfits: Menon
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Jan 11, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

David Bowie was a rock god for misfits: Menon

While other acts tried to change their material worlds by welding music to traditional conventions, Bowie did the opposite: he was changing the world by embracing the unconventional.


In death, as in life, David Bowie wanted control.

His new albumBlackstar came out Friday, on his 69th birthday. He knew the curtain was falling. He knew this would be the final release, the final birthday, in a career without artistic equal. By Sunday night, when the world got the news, he was already gone. The man who revolutionized music by refusing to stay the same was unpredictable to the end.

To now watch the video for “Lazarus,” a song from Blackstar, is to be punched in the gut knowing Bowie filmed it in the twilight of terminal illness.

There he is, the blank slate that animated so many alter egos: Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke. The oversaturated glam palette of those shape-shifting days is now a forlorn grey. Bowie is in bed, sick and enfeebled, his hands riven with veins. A bandage encircles his head. Two black buttons sit where his eyes should be. The image is jarring and ghoulish; a posthumous work made while the avant-garde artist is still alive.

“Look up here,” Bowie sings, tugging on the covers like a frightened toddler. “I’m in heaven.”

Only Bowie could turn his imminent demise into an eerie masterpiece.


Bowie’s friend and long-time producer, Tony Visconti, confirmed Monday the album was a “parting gift” for fans. Bowie conceived it after he was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, which he kept secret.

As Visconti wrote in a Facebook post: “I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

From London to Tokyo, New York to Mumbai, the tears surged on Monday, as they do when a beloved figure leaves the world too soon. For Bowie, it would have always been too soon. While he receded from the public eye over the past decade — a heart attack while on tour in 2004 forced him to slow down — his body of work was already an emotional citadel in the lives of millions.

Born on Jan. 8, 1947, in Brixton, London, David Robert Jones was a gifted student who went on to immerse himself in art and music before a taste for fame grabbed him by the throat. He wanted to act and sing. He performed with a number of bands in the early ’60s — the Kon-Rads, the King Bees — but quickly left each when success was not immediately forthcoming.

David Bowie would need to go it alone to become David Bowie.

His eponymous first album was released in 1967. It didn’t break through, but that would soon change as he manically recorded another 11 of his 27 studio albums over the next decade: Space Oddity (1969); The Man Who Sold the World (1970); Hunky Dory (1971); The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972); Aladdin Sane (1973); Diamond Dogs (1974); Young Americans (1975); Station to Station (1976); Low (1977); Heroes (1977); and Lodger (1979).

While other acts tried to change their material worlds by welding music to traditional conventions, Bowie did the opposite: he was changing the world by embracing the unconventional. By turns androgynous, promiscuous, quotidian, cosmic, aloof, flamboyant, vulnerable, brash, nihilistic and sensitive, Bowie laid waste to identity with his ever-morphing visage. His own feelings, his own identity, did not count. He would be someone else, a marionette pulling its own strings.

The dominant themes of his music — alienation, loneliness, confusion, addiction — were like a black light in the nooks of a deceptively sunshiny status quo. This had the strange effect of liberating those who felt like they didn’t quite belong but had nowhere else to go. Bowie became their refuge, a rock god for misfits, a star who naturally gravitated toward outsiders: “And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds/ Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware what they’re going through.”

But as that song predicts, there were to be ch-ch-changes.

By the early ’80s, Bowie shed the makeup and outrageous theatrics and hit the zenith of his commercial success. Let’s Dance (1983), an upbeat pop album, was a departure from his moodier work. It blew up on the strength of monster hits such as the title track, “Modern Love,” and “China Girl.”

Bowie became the global superstar that he was not while earning his performance bona fides a decade earlier. He continued to write and record, to experiment with genres and styles and collaborators. He acted and painted and, after decades of toxic relationships, found domestic bliss in 1992 after marrying model Iman.

Bowie didn’t just write songs. He created worlds and once you walked in you never wanted to leave. His inimitable voice, his artistic flair, his ability to make beautiful melodies and lyrical despair fit neatly together earned him the tears that won’t stop for a long time now. Whether Major Tom was a lost astronaut, or a junkie strung out in heaven, the real oddity is that we all become ashes.

Bowie touched so many worlds. Vatican cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi confirmed this on Monday by poignantly tweeting out the opening to “Space Oddity.”

“Ground control to Major Tom / Commencing countdown, engines on / Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”

Toronto Star

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