RIP: David Bowie

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Posted January 11, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
rip-davidbowie-header

Legendary rock icon David Bowie dies at the age of 69 

David Bowie, an enigma and experimentalist in every sense of the word, with over 100 million albums sold worldwide, succumbed at his New York home to liver cancer at the age of 69. He had been battling the illness for eighteen months, according to various sources.

The news of Bowie’s passing was confirmed by his son, film director Duncan Jones, who posted a statement upon his social media accounts. “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous eighteen-month battle with cancer,” it said, while also asking for privacy for his family. “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

Bowie is considered to be one of the most influential, artistic and greatest rock artists of all time. With four decades of making music, and a jump into acting which included films like Labrinyth and The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie — born David Robert Jones in South London’s Brixton — forced glam rock into the mainstream via his androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust and subsequent albums, invented “plastic soul” with 1975’s Young Americans, and even became emerged as one of the most popular fashion icons in the realm of popular music.

His early years were marked with careful exploration, although very little fanfare and success came from his first three albums. It wasn’t until he dropped 1971’s Hunky Dory that Bowie found his voice using this new sophisticated form of glam rock. His magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, immediately followed. Now-iconic staples like “Starman,” Suffragette City” and “Rock ‘n Roll Suicide” filled the album’s grooves. With a cinematic storyline introducing a Messiah-like alien to Earth with the plan to bring messages of hope to an apocalyptic world, Ziggy finds himself experimenting with all the ravages of rock n’ roll — drugs, fame, sexual nirvana (including bisexuality). All of these things ends up destroying Ziggy, and for a moment seemed a bit autobiographical. He also played with bisexuality, later remarking that his earlier account of being bisexual was “the biggest mistake I ever made.” Drugs also consumed much of Bowie’s life in the late ’70’s during the Studio 54 era, but later rebounded from those vices. He married Mary Angela Barnett in 1970, had a son (Duncan Jones), but later divorced. In 1992, Bowie married supermodel Iman and remained with her up to his unfortunate passing.

Two very important records in the ’70’s also elevated his starpower. Young Americans, an album recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia, saw Bowie jumping in the realm of R&B and even solicited the help of a young Luther Vandross to handle backing vocals and arrangements. Bowie described his own work at this time as being “plastic soul.” It may have been a jab at his own ego, but Young Americans broke Bowie as a pop act, producing his first major US breakthrough. “Fame,” the infectious funk tune co-penned by John Lennon, earned Bowie his first number one smash hit. It also was a crossover success into the black market, even sealing a performance on the hit dance program Soul Train. The title cut, Vandross’s “Fascination,” and “Golden Years” also proved to be popular destinations on the disc. Bowie’s twelfth LP, 1977’s Heroes, rounded out Bowie’s best work in the ’70’s with Brian Eno at the production table and his ascension into art rock.

 

WATCH: DAVID BOWIE – “LET’S DANCE”
LIVE 2002, PARIS 

 

In the ’80’s, Bowie continued to reinvent himself and explored new worlds of synthpop, dance-pop and electronica on hits like “Ashes to Ashes,” “Fashion” and the Queen collaboration “Under Pressure” — mostly remembered for being the sampled royalty used on Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.” His mightiest effort of this decade, 1983’s Let’s Dance, sold seven million copies worldwide, becoming his best-selling album to date. The disc, produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers, yielded a number of hit singles, particularly the infectious title cut (number one in the US and UK) and “China Girl.” More discoveries in the world of New Wave would come his way, but none of those products matched the titanium success of Let’s Dance.

In 1996, Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He continued to record, even exploring electronica (and jungle music) on 1997’s Earthling. By the time, Bowie d2003’s Reality, he decided to bow out from recording. He ended that silence when he dropped 2013’s The Next Day, a critically-acclaimed LP that found its way jumping to the number two spot on the Billboard 200.

Ironically, Bowie released Blackstar, an album that was released on his birthday and only two days before his death. In tribute to Bowie, longtime album producer Tony Visconti, who also helmed his comeback LP The Next Day, wrote that “he always did what he wanted to do. He wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift.”

Bowie’s musical contributions, androgynous appeal of the ’70’s, fashion sense and bold creative prowess literally paved the way for modern day mega stars. “Pop artists now, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, all owe a huge a debt to the fact that he really married visuals to sound — nobody did it quite like David Bowie did,” Hollywood Reporter senior reporter Rebecca Sun said on CNN this morning.

 

HIFI PLAYLIST: DAVID BOWIE

Spotify accessed. Featuring many of Bowie’s most iconic hits, deep cuts and more. Approved by the editors of HiFi.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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