Three years after his death, David Bowie’s mu­si­cal legacy and cre­ative ideas live on

The Sunday Guardian - - YOUNG RESTLESS & - LUCY JONES

David Bowie re­leases his first sin­gle, Rus­sian writer Fy­o­dor Dos­toyevsky’s first novel is pub­lished in the St Peters­burg Col­lec­tion almanac. First assembly of the League of Na­tions is held in Paris. David Bowie left this Earth three years ago on 10 Jan­uary and he would have turned 72 on Tuesday (8 Jan­uary). But of all the mu­si­cal leg­ends who have died in the last decade, Bowie feels strangely present and alive, thanks to both the in­ter­net and the al­ter­na­tive worlds he cre­ated which still ex­ist for his fans.

I imag­ine most peo­ple dis­cov­ered, or will dis­cover, Bowie as teenagers, and to us he said this: you can be who you want. You don’t have to be this way or that way, this kind of boy or that kind of girl. You can be a kook, or a rebel, or quiet and reclu­sive. You can have mousy brown hair, or fiery red hair, or a golden orb on your fore­head. And then you can change.

For his cul­tural con­tri­bu­tion and in­flu­ence went far be­yond the riffs, the melodies and the chords. From the first sin­gle he re­leased after chang­ing his name from David Jones to David Bowie—the glo­ri­ous “Can’t Help Think­ing About Me”, which he de­scribed as a “beau­ti­ful piece of solip­sism”—bowie ex­plored ex­is­ten­tial­ism and the self, First fully au­to­matic pho­to­graphic film de­vel­op­ing ma­chine is pa­tented. First use of lie de­tec­tor takes place in Nether­lands. makes its de­but in the board game mar­ket. both within and out­side of Earth’s cul­tural bi­na­ries, but also on a cos­mic scale, with his ob­ses­sion with alien life and sci­ence fic­tion. He ex­plored, con­fronted and chal­lenged ideas and tropes about iden­tity and trans­for­ma­tion, the cen­tral con­cerns of many ado­les­cents.

In break­ing his own “sub­ur­ban curse”, as he put it, Bowie ush­ered mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of peo­ple to do the same. Of­ten, he wrote about lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion, a feel­ing of fall­ing to Earth and not re­ally know­ing what’s go­ing on, and ei­ther leav­ing it there and rev­el­ling in ni­hilism or ex­plor­ing its treat­ment: con­nec­tion.

Has any other artist trans­mit­ted more cre­ative free­dom to their fans? Or had some­thing more mean­ing­ful or pro­found to say about iden­tity? Bowie took him­self and his life se­ri­ously as a sub­ject, but, cru­cially, avoided groan-in­duc­ing pre­ten­sion by spik­ing his art and com­men­tary with hu­mour and silli­ness (“The Laugh­ing Gnome”, any­one?). He was also deeply self-aware. He said he started wear­ing cos­tumes be­cause he wasn’t sure if he even had a per­son­al­ity. “I al­ways had a re­pul­sive need to be some­thing more than hu­man.”

Es­sen­tially, his legacy lives on be­cause he changed the way peo­ple felt about them­selves and the world. And not in a flash-in-a-pan way. When swayed here and there by this and that, I of­ten think of his sin­gu­lar­ity and force, and ape his spirit to forge ahead. Be more Bowie. For me, there are no other artists I sum­mon in this way, and I imag­ine I will do so in per­pe­tu­ity. For many of the ideas and val­ues we fold into our­selves in ado­les­cence run through us like writ­ing in a stick of rock.

I won­der if the ex­pe­ri­ence for teenagers dis­cov­er­ing Bowie today is re­ally that dif­fer­ent to those of us who fell in love with him while he was still alive. Thanks to tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia, kids who dis­cover him in 2019 will have vastly more touch points and ma­te­rial to ac­cess than I did in the Nineties. Take the new aug­mented re­al­ity app of David Bowie Is, the su­perla­tive 2013 V&A ex­hi­bi­tion, which chimes per­fectly with how for­ward-think­ing he was about tech­nol­ogy: let’s not for­get that in 1998, Bowie set up his own ISP, Bowienet. Fans can zoom in on the de­tails of his iconic Wood­land Crea­tures body­suit or the hand­writ­ten lyrics for “Star­man”.

David Bowie.

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