Ground Control to Major Tom: The Passing of Cultural Legend David Bowie
The Passing of Cultural Legend David Bowie
Worldwide news this morning reported the surprising death of music legend David Bowie this Sunday, January 10th at the age of 69. As reported in a statement posted on his social media accounts, “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer.
While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.” His battle with cancer was not made public until his passing, nor did it stopped the artist from his work – just two days prior to his death, he released his 25th album, titled Blackstar.
Bowie’s impact on pop culture over the last 50 years has resonated around the world, through his incredible creativity in music to his unusual film roles, influencing fashion along the way. Born David Robert Jones in England on January 8, 1947, David fostered an interest in music from an early age, expressing a talent for dance and musical instruments which he carried through his life. At the age of 13 Bowie learned to play the saxophone, one of many instruments he would learn throughout his life. These abilities would lead to his uncanny skill to create popular, diverse and explorative music, which in turn lead to his commercial success in the early 1970’s.
His most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust, gave rise to his career in 1972, a colorful, androgynous stage figure accompanied by The Spiders from Mars. The record The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Bowie’s fifth album, was soon followed by two albums in 1973 and a transition into the American music scene, cementing Bowie as a worldwide phenomena and cultural influence. Generally classified as Glam Rock, Bowie’s musical style and stage presence was innovative, challenging the norms his contemporaries held and pushing the musical landscape forward unrelentlessly.
These musical challenges were accompanied by challenges to fashion norms, the aforementioned androgynous persona wore dresses, bright colors and patterns accessorized with platform boots, blazingly colored makeup, and brightly colored and freshly styled hair. As his style progressed through the 1970’s, his penchant for bright colors and patterns did not fade, from a bright red jumpsuit styled to resemble a glamorous pirate, growing all the more fanciful through his Aladdin tour. In one instance he donned a torn web bodysuit under a glittering one-legged pair of pants that wrapped around Bowie’s body, ending in two black-nailed hands clutching at his chest. These iconic images have been created and reinterpreted through fashion for the past forty years, by the like of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring/summer 2013 collection, Kate Moss for British Vogue in 2003, and Chloë Sevigny for a 1996 Miu Miu campaign. Even through this past Spring/Summer season’s shows, the 1970’s held a heavy presence, and Gareth Pugh’s glamorous collection could certainly recall Bowie’s influence.
His ability to reinvent himself both physically and musically with seeming effortlessness only added greater charge to his already electric career, inspiring a cult following that is still prevalent today. “As was the case with Miles Davis in jazz,” Rolling Stone magazine expressed about the artist, “Bowie has come not just to represent his innovations but to symbolize modern rock as an idiom in which literacy, art, fashion, style, sexual exploration and social commentary can be rolled into one.” From his generally acoustic beginnings, Bowie navigated through heavier rock styles, touching on punk, disco, funk, soul and more as the years progressed. And with his musical evolution came stylistic growth, from his dramatic and eccentric Ziggy Stardust, disturbing the current norms with his androgynous looks and glamorous makeup and costumes, into his more refined but nonetheless exciting personas, mirroring and exploring the trends of each passing era.
Beyond his musical talents, Bowie was enlisted by many directors into acting, including his performance in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, and his role alongside Catherine Deneuve in the film The Hunger. He is well known for his 2001 appearance as himself in Zoolander. His music was used for many of the films he worked on, including the 1986 Jim Henson musical Labyrinth, for which he composed five songs and played the antagonist Jareth, the Goblin King. Bowie’s numerous artistic collaborations include the best-selling song Under Pressure, performed with Queen in 1981, and an album collaboration with Tina Turner on Tonight, released in 1984.
As inspiring and incredible as Bowie’s life has been, it was not without its dark moments and infamy. While drug use was not unknown or unexpected in rock and roll, an issue with cocaine addiction early on in his career lead him to suffer ill health and bouts of paranoia while touring in 1974, while exploiting his sexuality for its shock value leant him an infamous reputation. In a 2002 interview with Blender, Bowie reflected on his public declaration of his bisexuality and the effect it had on his career and public persona, saying, “I had no problem with people knowing I was bisexual. But I had no inclination to hold any banners nor be a representative of any group of people. I knew what I wanted to be, which was a songwriter and a performer, and I felt that bisexuality became my headline over here for so long. America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do.” This statement echoed his 1983 comment in a Rolling Stone interview that his public announcement was “the biggest mistake I ever made.”
Like most famed musicians, Bowie’s personal life became public knowledge, from affairs and marriages to children and more. In 1970 he married his first wife, actress Angela Barnett, which resulted in a divorce in 1980. Bowie wrote several songs about Barnett, including Golden Years, and together they had son Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, known today as the director Duncan Jones. Bowie remarried in 1992 to supermodel Iman, with whom he had daughter Alexandria Zahra Jones. Bowie remained married to Iman until his recent passing.
With his unexpected passing from his private battle with cancer, musicians, celebrities, politicians and artists along with millions of fans around the world have echoed the devastation at the loss of an iconic and inspirational individual. His mark on music and pop culture has been unquestionable, reiterated globally today in the face of his loss.
The Passing of Cultural Legend David Bowie