I don’t often write about pop music, but I can’t not mention David Bowie following the very sad news that he has died at the age of 69.
Bowie’s music was a major part of the soundtrack to my teens. I can’t even remember how I discovered his music: perhaps a friend played me a track or two and I was instantly hooked, voraciously listening to his (then) extant oeuvre from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane, through Hunkydory, Low and Station to Station. I loved the inventiveness of his music, the quirky poetic lyrics and above all his ability to reinvent and reshape himself for each successive album. Some of his songs were anthems – ‘Heroes’ being the most obvious – others were tender ballads or trippy existential ramblings (Aladdin Sane). There were folksongs and rock n roll numbers: no two were the same.
When I met my husband I was delighted to find he had the same collection of Bowie albums as me, together with some I didn’t own (‘Low’, ‘Lodger’): it felt significant somehow that we had this shared cultural landscape.
Bowie once described Bob Dylan as having “a voice like sand and glue”, but his own voice was unique too, slightly nasal, always distinctive. He could croon or exclaim, whisper or shout.
His music dropped off my radar in the 1990s when I was becoming more immersed in classical music, but of course he was always there, in the background. When he released his penultimate album, The Next Day, in 2013, I made an effort to listen again. In tracks like Where Are We Now? we find Bowie the mature artist, reflective yet still inventive.
His refusal to engage much with the media or do interviews suggests not a reclusive artist but one who felt at ease with himself and his multiple artistic and musical personae. This confidence, a secure sense of self, is undoubtedly reflected in his music.
His death – like Pierre Boulez’s in the classical world – robs us of a true creative artist, an innovator, visionary and a fine musical craftsman.
David Bowie 1947-2016