Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie (1947 - 2016)

David Bowie has died of cancer at age 69.

The New York Times notes that his musical career was active until the very end:

The multitalented artist, whose last album, “Blackstar,” was released on Friday — on his birthday — was to be honored with a concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31 featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper and the Mountain Goats. He also has a musical, “Lazarus,” running Off Broadway.
More from the NYT obit:
"Mr. Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could. With a voice that dipped down to baritone and leapt into falsetto, he was complexly androgynous, an explorer of human impulses that could not be quantified."

He also pushed the limits of “Fashion” and “Fame,” writing songs with those titles and also thinking deeply about the possibilities and strictures of pop renown. . . .

In the late 1960s, Lindsay Kemp, a dancer, actor and mime, became a lasting influence on Mr. Bowie, focusing his interest in movement and artifice. Mr. Bowie’s music turned toward folk-rock and psychedelia. The release of “Space Oddity,” shortly before the Apollo 11 mission, gained him a British pop audience and, when it was rereleased in 1973 in the United States, an American one.

By then, with the albums “Hunky Dory,” “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” and “Aladdin Sane,” Mr. Bowie had become a pioneer of glam rock and a major star in Britain, playing up an androgynous image. But he also had difficulties separating his onstage personas from real life and succumbed to drug problems, particularly cocaine use. In 1973, he abruptly announced his retirement — though it was the retirement of Ziggy Stardust, not of Mr. Bowie.

He moved to the United States in 1974 and made “Diamond Dogs,” which included the hit “Rebel Rebel.” In 1975, he turned toward funk with the album “Young Americans,” recorded primarily in Philadelphia with collaborators, including a young Luther Vandross; John Lennon joined Mr. Bowie in writing and singing the hit “Fame.” Mr. Bowie’s 1976 album “Station to Station” yielded more hits, but drug problems were making Mr. Bowie increasingly unstable; in interviews, he made pro-fascist pronouncements that he would soon disown.

For a far-reaching change of environment, and to get away from drugs, Mr. Bowie moved in 1976 to Switzerland and then to West Berlin, part of a divided city with a sound that fascinated him: the Krautrock of Kraftwerk, Can, Neu! and other groups. Mr. Bowie shared a Berlin apartment with Iggy Pop, and he helped produce and write songs for two Iggy Pop albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life.”

He also made what is usually called his Berlin trilogy — “Low,” “ ‘Heroes’ ” and “Lodger” — working with Mr. Eno and Mr. Bowie’s collaborator over decades, the producer Tony Visconti. They used electronics and experimental methods, like having musicians play unfamiliar instruments, yet songs like “ ‘Heroes’ ” conveyed romance against the bleakest odds.

As the 1980s began, Mr. Bowie turned to live theater, performing in multiple cities (including a Broadway run) in the demanding title role of “The Elephant Man.” Yet he would also reach his peak as a mainstream pop musician in that decade — particularly with his 1983 album “Let’s Dance,” which he produced with Nile Rodgers of Chic; the Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan also performed on the album. But by 1989, Mr. Bowie was determined to change again; he recorded, without top billing, as a member of the rock band Tin Machine.

His experiments continued in the 1990s. In 1995, he reconnected with Mr. Eno on an album, “1. Outside,” — influenced by science fiction and film noir — that was intended to be the start of a trilogy. Mr. Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails in an innovative concert that had his band and Nine Inch Nails merging partway through."
This is from a 2002 article based on an interview with Bowie and others:
"You can still put on 'Ziggy Stardust' and it [sounds] like it could have come out last month," commented [Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails], for a Bowie "Biography" to run on A&E later this year. "It set the foundations for a lot of trends that are happening now."

Following "Ziggy Stardust," Bowie began shifting personae "like an actor rather than a singer," as Glover puts it. Without such moves, a later chameleon like Madonna would have been unimaginable. Small wonder it was she who inducted Bowie into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. . . .

In 1978, Bowie was asked by a British journalist to assess his greatest contribution to rock. "I'm responsible for starting a whole new school of pretension," he famously quipped.

But looking back now at his first theatrical elaboration of the music, he reacts with both bemusement and pride. "It's 30 years ago," he says. "But it feels like 60. Everything, and everyone, has changed. I was recently looking at an old cover of New Musical Express from 1973. It's me and Mick [Jagger], and he's just found glam a little late. He's wearing this jumpsuit with epaulets, and he's dripping in makeup and mascara. And I'm on the other half of the page with this net costume with hands stuck everywhere. You look at it and think, 'What was that all about?'

"But it really did look great, and it was so exciting. My God, that period will never be repeated. It was a hell of a fk off to what came before."

To be specific, to hippie-dom.

"God, I hated the hippie period," Bowie says with a laugh. "They talked about being so creative, but there was so little creativity to it. Glam really did plant seeds for a new identity. I think a lot of kids needed that that sense of reinvention. Kids learned that however crazy you may think it is, there is a place for what you want to do and who you want to be.

"And I needed that myself," Bowie continues. "Even though I was very shy, I found I could get onstage if I had a new identity. And then I learned to discard that identity to become a real self maybe not real to the point of Bruce Springsteen," he adds sarcastically. "But at least an approximation of reality on stage." . . .

Today, he says, "I'm frighteningly happy. I don't see ever wanting to change things in my personal life. Iman and I are very happy, and we have the most fabulous baby."

Yet, as a consequence, he says, he's lost what younger men have namely, "a sense of becoming. At a certain age, you realize you are no longer becoming. You are being. I like knowing what's up. But I do miss the excitement of not knowing quite what's around the next corner."

However content he is in his day-to-day existence, and while he may have "fewer and fewer questions about life," Bowie says this has focused him on "the questions that are unresolvable."

Namely, the existential ones. "I'm approaching those questions in the new songs," he says. "At first, I thought, 'Well, if I write about this, I won't have anything left to write about.' But then I realized that what life is about is quite a subject to take on. "And at the moment," he says, "I feel like I've only scratched the surface."

Bowie with Arcade Fire, performing the band's song "Wake Up":