David Bowie (illustration by Dan Springer)
[Update, March 2018: David Bowie was FUV's very first FUV Essentials artist, back in March 2016, just a couple of months after his passing. Two years later, there are some notable updates to his vibrant legacy. Following a five-year journey at museums across the world, the exhibition "David Bowie is" opened on March 2 at its final stop, New York's Brooklyn Museum, where it remains until mid-July 2018. Bowie is given a remarkable and all-inclusive career overview at this expansive multimedia event, which features over 400 objects from the musician's personal archives: iconic costumes, handwritten lyrics and correspondence, photographs, videos and more.
Every era of Bowie's artistry and life, from his start as a hopeful, sax-playing teenager of post-war England to his final, elegaic Blackstar recordings, are illuminated in "David Bowie is." Sixty pieces from his expansive perfomance wardobe are on display, including Freddie Burretti's for Ziggy Stardust/1980 Floor Show and Kansai Yamamoto's costumes for Aladdin Sane, and there are even items never before shown in public, like his private notebooks sketching out ideas for his final album, 2016's Blackstar. As attendees wander through the exhibition with headphones, their experience is scored, step by step, by a seamless soundtrack of Bowie's songs and audio clips that trace his evolution.
There are also collaborations with friends, including a delightful series of faxed line sketches with Laurie Anderson, who described them to the New York Times as "really strange rhymes."
In addition to the "David Bowie is" exhibition in New York, the 1986 fantasy film and cult favorite "Labyrinth," in which Bowie played Jareth the Goblin King, alongside future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly and Jim Henson's Creature Shop puppets, will be re-released in movie theatres from April 29-May 2.
Collectors of Bowie vinyl recordings might also note that for Record Store Day on April 21, Parlophone will offer three limited edition releases: the three-disk Welcome to the Blackout (Live London 1978), Let's Dance (Demo), and for the first time available commercially, a 1977 U.S. promo LP, Bowie Now, recorded during his Berlin era and available on white vinyl. More information on each release can be found on Bowie's website. - Ed.]
A consummate shapeshifter, rock star, and genius innovator, no artist defined the restless progression and mutability of music over the past five decades quite like David Bowie. His unexpected death on January 10, 2016, was a devastating blow to millions of music lovers across the globe, unleashing a downpour of grief and bewilderment that is still felt daily.
Few men ever seemed as effortlessly immortal as Bowie—as improbable as that might be in hindsight—and as he returned to recording and theatre over the past few years, via 2013's The Next Day, the 2015 off-Broadway production of "Lazarus," and this year's secretive Blackstar, we expected that he'd always be with us. He'd likely outlive us all. It's inconceivable that he is gone.
The scope of Bowie's sweeping influence on rock, pop, jazz, theatre, literature, stagecraft and fashion is infinite. He remains an exemplar for the wiry theatrics of St. Vincent or Annie Lennox, the darker vortexes of Nine Inch Nails or Iggy Pop, the ambitious eclecticism of Arcade Fire, Janelle Monáe or LCD Soundsystem, and the queer pride of Bloc Party's Kele or Elton John. Bowie befriended his musical heroes, like Scott Walker or Nina Simone, and often collaborated with them too, like Lou Reed, John Lennon and Brian Eno. When 19-year-old Lorde poignantly sang "Life on Mars" at the BRIT Awards earlier this winter, backed by longtime members of Bowie's touring band, there was no denying his astonishing impact on every generation: past, present and future. In that way, as the years crawl on, David Bowie will remain eternally alive.
Born David Jones in the working class neighborhood of Brixton in south London on January 8, 1947, Bowie possessed a schoolboy's love of American rockers, like Little Richard or Elvis Presley, and, as a fledgling saxophonist, the jazz experimentation of John Coltrane or Charles Mingus. He filtered an enduring love for the Beatles, Bob Dylan, British comedy ("The Goon Show") and West End musicals (Lionel Bart's Oliver!) into his nervy patchwork of character-driven rock personas.
Bowie zigzagged between his own polychromatic eras, slipping from the gentle, folky thrum of "Space Oddity" to the taut theatricality of Ziggy Stardust, spiralling from the gaunt soul of Young Americans to the prickly fury of Station to Station's haughty Thin White Duke. Bowie wandered the streets of Berlin with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno for Low, Lodger and Heroes (and according to Eno, the singer lived on raw eggs). The '80s arrived with the technicolor fervor and new Romanticism of Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Absorbing the energy of industrial raves and electronica, Bowie dove into the maelström with the propulsive Earthling.
Navigating his fifties and a post-9/11 world, he wrote the songs for Heathen and Reality with an unflinching, sober eye. And he guided us through his last years, with mystery and grace, on The Next Day and Blackstar. In many ways, the cultural history of Britain and the United States—and our universal arc from youth to middle age to death—can be documented via Bowie's 25 studio albums.
His music continues to bookmark our lives. Maybe, as a neon-clad kid of the '80s hooked on nascent MTV, you discovered a very blond, video-sculpted Bowie and shouted along with him to "Let's Dance." Or like a young Trent Reznor, you were wonderstruck by Scary Monsters. FUV's own Rita Houston found shelter and connection in the brassy grooves of Young Americans. And for millions of bereft Bowie fans, it's still hard to listen to "Lazarus" without weeping.
David Bowie was a visionary. And he will be missed.
More David Bowie features here:
- Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath: Five Essential David Bowie Songs
- Rita Houston's David Bowie
- Hey Marseilles' cover of "Heroes," filmed at FUV's Studio A
- Dennis Elsas's 2011 chat with Paul Trynka, the author of Starman
- The Magic Shop's Steve Rosenthal's Five Essential David Bowie Albums
- BØRNS' Five Essential David Bowie Albums
- Bowie Roundtable with Gail Ann Dorsey, Mark Plati and Tim LeFebvre
- The Music of David Bowie At Carnegie Hall: Recap