The man who fell from Earth
If you ever gave a damn about David Bowie, I encourage you to go on You Tube and watch two videos from his new album Blackstar—the 10 minute title cut and “Lazarus.” You’ll see two excellent pieces of video art, as one might expect from Dave—provocative, unpredictable and moving, and not in any way maudlin, sentimental or sappy, even though both were made with full knowledge that these vids would be his final works on this planet.
His career as a rock star and superdude media icon lasted years, but his true prime time was ’72 to ’83. The 1970s were Dave’s Decade, where he and his band “moved like tigers on Vaseline,” taking rock music from the pshaggy 1960s to the glam rock 1970s, and make no mistake about it, the 1970s were a great, great time for rock ’n’ roll.
Through the crystal clear lens of hindsight, we can now marvel at Bowie’s outburst of output in that righteous span, beginning with the great breakthrough ’72 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I remember well as me and my pals, firmly in the musical headlock of southern rock and Led Zep, completely embraced the Ziggy album as well. It was a damn good and completely fresh rock record that sounded like nothing else. Our stoned air guitar workouts to “Suffragette City” were freaking epic, baby! It’s still a titanic piece of work and sounds totally terrific, 44 years on.
The only way you become a true star in rock, and then a legend, is to build an undeniable and hefty body of work. Dave, amidst the blizzards of cocaine and the puritanical uproar surrounding his declared bisexuality, proceeded to swiftly build that legacy (though he later confessed all that bi stuff to be mostly a ruse to generate publicity, one that worked extremely well in an America that Dave described as a “very puritanical place”).
Bowie followed Ziggy with Aladdin Sane in ’73 (“Panic in Detroit”), then ’74, Diamond Dogs (“Rebel Rebel”), a complete shift in ’75 from Ziggy to the plastic soul of Young Americans (title track, “Fame”), another makeover in ’76 into the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (“Golden Years”), then a physical move to Berlin for the moody trilogy of Low, “Heroes” (one of my all-time fave Daves) and The Lodger, then moving back to Britain to make 1980’s Scary Monsters (“Ashes to Ashes”) and finally, in ’83, the supersmash album, maybe the greatest of all, Let’s Dance (title track, “China Girl”), where Dave hooked up with this unknown Texas guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan and owned the airwaves for a good while.
His longtime producer, Tony Visconti, said on Sunday the 10th, the day Bowie became The Man Who Fell From Earth, “He always did what he wanted to do. … His death was no different than his life, a work of art. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. … He will always be with us.”