Monday, January 11, 2016

Long Live The Duke

This morning brought terrible news: the Thin White Duke has passed.

I don't remember a time David Bowie's music was not a part of my life. Ever-changing, ever-leading. Pushing boundaries. Embracing change. Daring us to judge him.

I remember my brothers making toy guitars out of cardboard and hot wheels tracks and rocking out to Fame and Golden Years on the 45, and I was jealous because I wanted to play Bowie too. I remember listening to 'best of all time' playlists on several different stations with different styles, and hearing Space Oddity in the top five of all of them, every year. I remember finally being old enough - and having enough cash - to see the Sound & Vision tour and being blown away, even up in the nosebleed section.

I remember seeing him again, several years later on the Outside tour, watching him merge effortlessly with Nine Inch Nails in the most impressive live show arrangement I've ever seen. And I remember my outrage at the little baby goths who left when Trent Reznor was done - didn't they know they were in the presence of greatness, that without Bowie there may never have been a NIN?

And it's true - his influence is incalculable. To some looking back he may appear to have been a follower, but those of us around for his whole career (ok I was born a year after his big debut - Space Oddity may not have been his first single, but it was the first that sounded like him - but let's not trifle with minutiae) recognize that he was an early adopter and a leader, discarding what he no longer needed, moving on to the next thing to interest him. He was the Starman, Ziggy Stardust, a lad insane/Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke. Some albums were instant hits, others not so much (I still like Never Let Me Down, shut up) but all had his ever-changing style.

Can we talk about film? The Hunger was one of the sexiest things I ever saw. His turn in Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence was fascinating. His Andy Warhol (Basquiat) and Nikola Tesla (The Prestige) were otherworldly. But Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth was his most riveting performance. It made us feel we might finally understand him, this alien visitor who walked among us and raised us all up just a bit.

He turned 69 on Friday, the same day his final studio album ★ (Blackstar) was released to much acclaim. It's wonderful and weird and somewhat jazzy and dreamy with dark edges, heady with the promise of almost-forgotten memories and dreams just out of sight, reminiscent of Bowie of old and of something new. A pretty good reflection of the man himself then.

The Duke is dead; long live The Duke.

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