R.I.P. David Bowie

  David Bowie, the rock genius, actor, painter, multi-instrumentalist and fashion icon died yesterday at the age of 69 after an 18-month bout with liver cancer. Bowie challenged conformity in pop music for six decades by constantly reinventing himself and was visionary enough to make records that made statements but were also hits. His final studio album, Blackstar, was released on his January 8th birthday. Bowie’s longtime producer, Tony Visconti, said that Blackstar was Bowie’s farewell present to his fans. Visconti also said that the avant-garde jazz/rock sound of the album was  partially influenced by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Bowie started his career in his native London during the late ’60’s and he changed his birth name of David Jones to David Bowie because Davy Jones of The Monkees was popular. He pioneered glam rock with his The Man Who Sold The World album but it was The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust that truly announced him as an innovator. The science-fiction persona of Ziggy Stardust, who was a bisexual, alien rock star trying to spread hope on earth was striking for its concept and the character’s visual. Stardust was the beginning of Bowie’s rule of the ’70s as a creator of constantly changing sound spanning rock, soul and funk. It was also the time he debuted his Thin White Duke and Aladdin Sane personas. His future-pop visions were realized again when he co-produced the groundbreaking Raw Power album with proto-punk leader Iggy Pop, with whom he became lifelong friends. Luther Vandross started working with Bowie during the decade as a backup singer on his Young Americans album. “Fame” from Young Americans became Bowie’s biggest American breakthrough at the time and he became one of the rare white artists to appear on Soul Train. Bowie’s guitarist, Carlos Alomar, created the riff for the song which was later used for James Brown’s “Hot (I Need To Be Loved)” and both songs were released in 1975. Bowie made his film debut in The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1976. The ’80’s were another period of Bowie’s expanding musical palette and he found new success with the single “Under Pressure” recorded with Queen. Nile Rodgers co-produced Let’s Dance  in 1983 and the single put Bowie on Black radio and became his biggest-selling album. Late Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn played on Let’s Dance and it became a major career move for him. Rodgers and Bowie would work together again in 1992 on Bowie’s Black Tie White Noise album after he disbanded his Tin Machine rock band. He ultimately appeared in 22 films and played the role of Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat.

In 2006 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and later that year performed onstage for the last time with Alicia Keys at the Black Ball. Stylistically, he covered more ground than the average 10 artists and had mainstream success without compromising his voice. His list of collaborations and appearances with people like Lou Reed and Ice Cube is its own pop catalog outside of the one he created as a solo artist.  Throughout his creative changes, he remained identified with the underdog and made those who felt like an outsider feel at home. Bowie never gave into the hardcore cliches that come with being a big rock star by staying in tune with whatever would be his next sound. Vanilla Ice, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, Public Enemy and J.Dilla are a handful of the hip-hop artists who have sampled Bowie’s music. His video for “Lazarus” from Blackstar appears to be a direct goodbye to his fans as he is filmed in bed telling the camera, “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”