IN MEMO­RIAM

1947 - 2016

IN Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Aaron Zorgel

Re­mem­ber­ing “The Man Who Fell To Earth”

Build some­thing beau­ti­ful, and burn it to the ground. That’s what David Bowie was good at. The queer icon’s pass­ing seems to have had an im­pact on ev­ery­one—a slow-burn­ing sprawl that comes as a re­sult of his chameleonic ca­pac­ity. David Bowie could be­come any­one, any­thing, and maybe that’s why any­one can find a piece of them­selves in David Bowie.

When we learned that the 69-year-old had suc­cumbed to can­cer, just days af­ter re­leas­ing his 25th stu­dio al­bum Black­star, we all mourned for a part of our­selves. How­ever strange, his masks acted as mir­rors, and whether he was Ziggy Star­dust, Aladdin Sane or the Thin White Duke, he taught us how to rip it up and start again, and how to feel cool in our own skin. Some­how, the man who rein­vented him­self count­less times leaves no ques­tion about his true iden­tity unan­swered. As the Star­man re­turns to the cos­mos, his legacy is crys­tal clear—David Bowie spoke di­rectly to the alien in all of us.

“Is there life on Mars?”

From day one, David Bowie seemed hell-bent on per­sonal evo­lu­tion. His ori­gins as a quaint folk-rock up­start from Brix­ton were soon eclipsed by a trio of ca­reer-launch­ing al­bums: the psych ex­per­i­ment Space Odd­ity, the heavy metal-in­flu­enced The Man Who Sold The World, and the con­cep­tual art-rock pas­tiche Hunky Dory. Th­ese al­bums laid the mould­able foun­da­tion for what would be­come his iconic glam-rock al­ter ego, Ziggy Star­dust. De­spite fi­nally find­ing com­mer­cial suc­cess and a wider au­di­ence as Ziggy, Bowie didn’t hes­i­tate in aban­don­ing the ex­trater­res­trial con­duit. Af­ter tour­ing the record, Bowie soon grew tired of play­ing Ziggy. “Be­sides, it was cost­ing me a for­tune on hair dye,” he once quipped. And so, Bowie killed Ziggy, and started from scratch.

“We can be he­roes, just for one day.”

Af­ter sub­sist­ing on a diet of red pep­pers and co­caine through­out most of the mid-’70s, and work­ing with defini­tive col­lab­o­ra­tors Brian Eno and and Nile Rodgers, a once cult fig­ure found main­stream foot­ing in the ’80s as an in­no­va­tor of vis­ual me­dia. Bol­stered by mu­sic videos, sin­gles like “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl,” and “Danc­ing In The Street” so­lid­i­fied Bowie’s place in the pop pan­theon. For Bowie, a per­for­ma­tive vis­ual el­e­ment was es­sen­tial. “I feel like an ac­tor when I’m on stage, rather than a rock artist,” he told Rolling Stone in 1972. His tal­ent for vis­ual trans­for­ma­tions also sur­faced on the big screen, with stand­out ap­pear­ances in The Man Who Fell To Earth and, of course, as Jareth the Gob­lin King in the 1986 Jim Hen­son epic Labyrinth.

David Bowie once said that in the ’60s, he was told he was too avant-garde to be suc­cess­ful, which comes as no sur­prise. The in­trepid an­drog­yny of his al­ter egos was at odds with a gen­der bi­nary that still, half a cen­tury later, per­me­ates pop­u­lar cul­ture. Through chal­leng­ing the norm, Bowie’s char­ac­ters em­pow­ered any­one who didn’t quite fit in.

“Look up here, I’m in Heaven.”

Un­til his last breath, Bowie re­mained light years ahead of us. We now know that Black­star would be his fi­nal bow. Two days af­ter its re­lease—the day of his earthly de­par­ture—the pro­ject took on new mean­ing. The open­ing line from “Lazarus” (“Look up here, I’m in Heaven”) serves as a greet­ing from be­yond the grave, not to men­tion the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pre­moni­tive mu­sic video, which de­picts Bowie in a hos­pi­tal bed. Per­haps most rev­e­la­tory is the al­bum’s ti­tle: a “black star” is a type of le­sion that ra­di­ol­o­gists use as an in­di­ca­tor for the pres­ence of can­cer. In the same way that David Bowie killed Ziggy Star­dust, he seemed to have com­plete con­trol over his own nar­ra­tive in his fi­nal days.

If it helps, you can call the al­bum a con­clu­sion, or look at it as clo­sure. Ac­cord­ing to long-time pro­ducer Tony Vis­conti, Bowie’s fi­nal al­bum is in­tended as a “part­ing gift” to fans, as part of a metic­u­lously or­ches­trated farewell. Black­star gave David Bowie his first-ever ca­reer #1 al­bum on the Bill­board charts but, more im­por­tantly, it’s an exit as glo­ri­ous as his in­tro­duc­tion, at­tach­ing a feel­ing of eternity to his leg­end. Ev­ery time you chal­lenge pub­lic per­cep­tion, Bowie lives. Ev­ery time you fight the for­mula, Bowie lives. Ev­ery time you go where no one has gone be­fore, David Bowie lives.

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