David Bowie was that special kind of star whose life touched and inspired us all. Through his music and his life, he made the world a better place to live in. Over the years, The Rumpus has written about David Bowie many times, and today, in honor of this great man and all he accomplished in his sixty-nine years, we’d like to take a look back.
Most recently, Rumpus columnist Allyson McCabe had the pleasure of speaking with legendary producer Tony Visconti for our Sound & Vision column. Visconti worked with Bowie throughout his career and, most recently, on Blackstar. The album was released last Friday and has become Bowie’s parting gift to us. Of the new album, Visconti commented,
You know, like with Blackstar, some reviewers don’t know quite what to make of it. And I don’t want to add my own theory. That’s the nice thing about David and a few other artists. You get to have your own interpretation.
Bowie’s music has inspired countless writers and artists and everyday humans to revel in their weirdness. His Berlin concert of 1987 was credited with helping to bring down the Berlin Wall. But Bowie didn’t just change the world through his music. He also worked to catalyze political change. For example, he worked with artists like Björk and Damon Albarn to create a petition to address climate change as world leaders met in Paris this past November for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Simon Critchley, a philosopher who teaches at The New School and moderates the New York Times‘s philosophy column The Stone, examined Bowie’s work and life in his book Bowie. Brian Gresko, who reviewed the book for us, wrote:
Critchley suggests that by his ever-mutating nature Bowie presents us with a model of identity, one that is constant only in its fluidity. Bowie’s embrace of, to quote one of his most popular songs, changes, is another way of promising freedom. Feeling stuck, unhappy? Change your hair, your tune—even, as in another fan favorite, “Rebel Rebel” your gender: “You got your mother in a twirl / She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl.” This partly explains, Critchley says, why many people have been profoundly moved by Bowie’s work.
In a 2014 Sound & Vision installment, Allyson McCabe spoke with Gail Ann Dorsey, a top-session bassist and singer-songwriter who’s worked with Bryan Ferry, Dar Williams, Tears For Fears, the Indigo Girls, Gwen Stefani, Lenny Kravitz, and, yes, David Bowie. Of playing with Bowie, Dorsey said:
I listen very closely, especially for someone like David Bowie, who has had a long catalogue and a history with five or six bass players over the different eras of his career, all of them very distinct. I try to get as close to that as possible, but I don’t want to be a total copycat. Initially I did that because I think that’s kind of how you learn, but at this stage I think my level and ability to figure it out has gotten a lot quicker and more accurate with more knowledge and experience behind it. I try to get into it like an actor prepares for a part. I want to capture the essence and do justice to the song and the singer more than anything else. So unless I’m told, “Don’t do that,” that’s where I start. Like with Bowie, he doesn’t want to do anything the same way twice.
Meanwhile, writer Simon Jacobs tried to get into the mind of David Bowie through flash fiction. In Saturn, reviewed for The Rumpus by Benjamin Rybeck, Jacobs “attempts to dig inside the artist’s mind, allowing him the small moments of introspection that his cagy public personae have always obscured.” Read more here.
And of course, back in 2013, Rick Moody heard from Bowie himself on the release of his album The Next Day for Moody’s ongoing Rumpus column, Swinging Modern Sounds. Rick wrote:
I persuaded Bowie, somehow, to give me a sort of a work flow diagram for The Next Day, because I wanted to think about it in light of what he was thinking about it, I wanted to understand the lexicon of The Next Day, and so I simply asked if he would provide this list of words about his album, assuming, like everyone else waving madly trying to get his attention, that there was not a chance in hell that I would get this list, because who the fuck am I, some novelist killing time writing occasionally about music, and yet astonishingly the list appeared, and it appeared without further comment, which is really excellent, and exactly in the spirit of this album, and the list is far better than I could ever have hoped, and it’s exactly like Bowie, at least in my understanding of him, impulsive, intuitive, haunted, astringent, and incredibly ambitious in the matter of the arts; Bowie is a conceptual artist, it seems to me, who just happens to work in the popular song, and he wants to make work that goes somewhere new, and this is amply demonstrated by the list.
Rick shares Bowie’s list with us, and then delves into each word and how it might apply to the songs on The Next Day, and Bowie’s larger body of work.
Please go ahead and leave your own thoughts and remembrances here in the comments. The grief of Bowie’s passing can only be mitigated by recalling his brilliant legacy, and the community that legacy created.