RIP David Bowie (One Year Anniversary)

By Glenn

The last thing this rotten world needs is another David Bowie memorial with a "personal twist," but it's all I have to give. He died a year ago today.

The above four pictures are the oldest ones I can find saved on my computer (evidence below) and they raise the following three questions:

  1. Why do I have seemingly random pictures of Bowie on my hard drive that haven't been opened in ~15 years?
  2. Why do, on further inspection, the pictures perfectly encapsulate his four major periods of creative excellence?
  3. Why am I still using the same computer that I was at the turn of the century?
Answer to all: David Bowie was my gateway to a new world of music.

There is no great victory in being into the music of the present era. In the late 90s for me that meant some combination of rock, alternative rock and grunge rock. I simply didn't listen to anything that was popular before "my time." While we could blame many players for this cultural deficit - my parents, my friends, Tipper Gore - the point is that my ignorance of music was holding me back. I lost an election for class president based on tired references to nu metal and killed myself in front of my English class because my favorite music video of all time was Pearl Jam's Jeremy. 

My much more learned and culturally adventurous friend Bryan didn't have these problems and it was through his suggestions that I got into David Bowie. Using money I stole from my fast food job, I bought 1999's ...hours and 1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on CD from Best Buy.  I remember earnestly and passionately watching the Thursday's Child music video on VH1 (internet did not yet exist) and blasting Moonage Daydream from my Sony Discman on my grandma's couch. History will ultimately judge which album is better but it didn't take long for me to get hooked.

1999-2000 was not Bowie's "coolest" period but he was still cooler than me - and had a vast mythology and discography that hinted at something deeper my favorite bands of the alternative rock era. His back catalog had recently been rereleased on Virgin and I spent the next few years searching out these and rarer versions - the rarest being two RCA releases from the early 80s that sounded like complete shit but looked different and may sell for as much as $50 now on the CD black market. Later in life I randomly won an auction that included a rare version of the All Saints instrumental collection that is apparently worth hundreds of dollars. Still haven't sold it.

Alas, I am not here to brag about how many cool CDs I own. The point is for the first time in my life I was discovering that older music had just as much to offer as modern music - if not more! I started to make the connections between Beck's Mellow Gold-Odelay-Mutations-Midnite Vulture transformation and Bowie's Man Who Sold The World-Hunky Dory-Diamond Dogs-Young Americans roller coaster ride. Apparently music history can repeat itself, at least amongst devoted Scientologists.

Bowie had all the same periods all of us young men go through:
  1. Faux folk
  2. Weird spaceman
  3. Sensitive poet
  4. REALLY weird spaceman
  5. Pale weirdo
  6. Orwell obsessive
  7. Soul singer
  8. Coked out Nazi
  9. Weird Nazi
  10. Sell out
I devoured Bowie's 1970's output the way he devoured cocaine in the middle of the decade. Young Americans was the first soul record I owned and Station to Station was the first ten minute song I heard about this wonderful drug. I cannot count the number of times I've screamed-sung aloud to Side A of "Heroes" - including, but not limited to, the title track, which is rightly acknowledged as the 2nd best song ever written about the Berlin Wall.  

At the same time I was going through the back catalog I was trying to update myself on "current" Bowie: 90s albums with mediocre songs and and extraordinary names like 1.Outside and Eart hl i ng. I followed him as far as 2002's Heathen before I decided Bowie's older stuff was good enough for me and instead began exploring his peers and predecessors. Over the next decade, I caught up with the few "good" Bowie albums I still hadn't heard but in general left him alone. He returned the favor: after 2003's Reality he basically disappeared from the music world for a decade before releasing The Next Day. I heard the singles from the album and liked them so bought the album and filed it away for later listening. Yes, he was back but still an old man making music, like Neil Young or Bob Dylan. Who rushes out to hear their current stuff?

And then, a few days after 2016's ★ was released, he fucking died. I can't say that I sat there weeping but for the first music legend death in my adult life, I understood those who did. I rushed to order Blackstar before the inevitable post-humous price gouging began on Bowie's catalog and floated through the next few days, listening to his back catalog and trying to figure out why it couldn't have been me instead of him. 

David Bowie was not a perfect man nor was he a perfect musician. He released some absolute shit in his career and honestly I doubt I'll ever go back through and take the time to learn his worst albums when I still haven't heard things like Blood on the Tracks or Double Fantasy. Would I have gotten into artists like Lennon and Dylan without going through Bowie first? Probably, but because he was first I'll always feel the deepest connection to his music, his weird endeavors with the internet, his ambiguous sexuality, his wacky personas and all of the other stuff that makes someone larger than life. If you want to talk more about best saxophone solos in his catalog, just let me know. 


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