Most of the Western world woke up today to the news that rock icon David Bowie passed away January 10 after losing a personal battle with cancer at age 69.
I’m a hockey guy, not a musician or expert on the industry by any means, but I had to devote a space on the Scouting Post blog to say goodbye to the man born David Jones because as long as I can remember my soon-to-be 44 years on this planet, Bowie’s art and influence has been a part of it. His death is a sobering reminder that as you truck along the sudden and unexpected loss of someone can evoke so many memories, emotions and feelings.
That’s what the news of Bowie’s passing did for me this morning when I pulled up Twitter and saw it for the first time.
So, here I am- not a commenter on music per se, nor do I have the kind of background as a musician to really get to the heart of who Bowie was or what his music did for the multiple generations who were exposed to it. Instead, I’ll break it down simply and say farewell to a man whom many are calling a genius on a day where we henceforth know there will be no more new songs or acting roles or appearances. But like those who truly endure and weather the test of time through not one or two decades but about five of them, Bowie’s influence will live long after 2016.
My admiration for Bowie is a pretty simple tale- it started with my dad, Jim. He was a Bowie fan in the early 70’s, and some of my very first memories of riding down the road listening to the radio or hearing him put on vinyl records involved Bowie songs. My dad pronounced his name wrong- he called him David Boo-ey…like one of his childhood heroes Jim Bowie…but he knew full well it was Bow-ee and I think I was about 7 when I heard a radio DJ pronounce it properly and had the temerity to call my pops on it. That began a lifetime inside joke between my dad and I- he would say, “Hey- I heard a new Boo-wee song the other day…it’s no Ziggy Stardust,” and I would retort- “Get out of the past, pops- Bow-ee’s sound is timeless and he’s as good in (insert current year) as he ever was.”
1983 was a watershed year for me and my allegiance to Bowie. That was when he released the Nile Rodgers-produced Let’s Dance album and everything changed. I remember wearing out my turntable needle on that one. The title track was most ubiquitous and got the greatest airplay on the radio and on MTV, but “Modern Love” was my favorite. That Stevie Ray Vaughan did the lead guitar work on the album (though he did not tour with Bowie and hit his own fame as a solo artist with Double Trouble around the same time) was the cherry on top. It’s like a blues guitar-infused dance experiment…and as a 5th grader who was moving more towards punk music thanks to artists like the Ramones, Sex Pistols and Killing Joke, it pulled me in and kept me there for the rest of my life.
I was a senior in high school when he delved into hard rock with Tin Machine, and it was then that I truly came to appreciate that he was a dynamo who could cross into any genre he wanted to. The man had it all, and you didn’t have to like ever evolution of sound Bowie went through or his constantly changing looks, but you had to least respect it. I’m convinced that if he wanted to put out an outlaw country album, Bowie could have turned it into a gold record. He made 27 studio albums over the course of his career, one that began with the 1964 single “Liza Jane” by Davie Jones & the King Bees.
As I grew older, I listened more and more to Bowie’s older stuff, developing a passion for tracks like “Suffragette City”, “Young Americans”,”Heroes”, “Ashes to Ashes”, “Golden Years”, “the Jean Genie” and “Changes.” I even named my first M1A1 tank when I was in A Company/3rd Battalion, 37th Armor in early 1995 “Ashes to Ashes”- all names had to start with ‘A’.
That’s not to say his newer work wasn’t good- we used his “I’m Afraid Of Americans” song with Trent Reznor in an Iraq compilation video (“Hooah video” in Armyspeak) my unit made during our deployment during the troop surge and many who heard it often commented that they had no idea Bowie had released that song as far back as 1997- well before 9/11 and the subsequent global changes that event brought.
As I type at this very moment, Bowie’s saying: “I know when to go out and when to stay in…get things done.” That’s how the opening to “Modern Love” goes and to me there’s not a more fitting coda to one amazing musical career that spanned decades and touched millions.
Farewell, Major Tom- you’re going home.
Kirk’s (favorite) Bowie Discography
1.Modern Love- 1983 (Let’s Dance)
2.Ziggy Stardust- 1972 (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)
3. Ashes to Ashes- 1980 (Scary Monsters and Super Creeps)
4. Heroes- 1977 (Heroes)
5. Golden Years- 1975 (Station to Station)
6. Let’s Dance- 1983 (Let’s Dance)
7. Young Americans- 1975 (Young Americans)
8. Suffragette City- 1972 ((The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars single released in 1976)
9. Afraid of Americans (with Trent Reznor)- 1997 (Earthling)
10. Under the God (as Tin Machine)- 1989 (Tin Machine)