January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016
It is nearly 3AM in the morning, and it is three days after David Robert Jones turned 69. A year shy of 70, David passed away only two days after the countdown to that golden year had started (one he may have possibly sang about). He had just released his newest album Blackstar (his best release in decades, no doubt) on his birthday, and now the world has frozen still after finding out that David Jones, who we all loved as David Bowie and his many incarnations of personas, lost a battle to cancer after eighteen months. It is 3 in the morning, but I do not care; Bowie did something for many of us, and I’ll damn well do something for him back.
I’m just a writer. I’m no Peter Travers, but I’m a writer. There are millions of us fighting to have our pieces read each and every day. Why do we try? Very few of us will make it. Polished and accessible wordsmiths will be picked over people like me any day. I’m an amateur who has been given a huge opportunity. I’m the perfect demographic for David Bowie’s music, as we all are in varying ways. Virtually no album is as relatable to outcasts as Hunky Dory. Put it on, and hear the love letters that Bowie pieced together. Hear two kooky parents beg their newborn son to stick around and accept them as they will accept him. Witness Bowie channel Lou Reed, Andy Warhol (not as in “wholes”) and Bob Dylan; Three men who the media just couldn’t handle appropriately. Bowie wrote about Aleister Crowley, humans acting irrationally, and the puberty that swallows us whole.
This is just from one album. On so many albums, David Bowie matured into different adolescent stages. These came through the forms of stage personas: Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, Major Tom, Aladdin Sane and many more. These identities lived and died within albums. In fact, Bowie himself was a stage avatar. David Jones took the name from frontiersman Jim Bowie to separate himself from one of the Monkees who donned a near identical name (Davey Jones). With one pupil larger than the other as the result of a schoolyard fight, Bowie was destined to being an oddball in the music scene. After struggling with a folk start, he faced some success with the astral ballad Space Oddity. His glam rock career started with The Man Who Sold the World.
We get back to Hunky Dory, now. This was his time to truly shine as a crooked gem. He sang for everyone who never felt good enough. He belted out for the loners, the dweebs, the losers and the bullied. The man who paraded his signature uneven gaze wrote directly to us with some of the most graceful poetry in contemporary music. This is why people like myself continue to write. Sure, I’m not as great as many other writers out there. There are many artists who try to persuade their listeners to “go for it” with the promise that they have what it takes. No one made quite as much sense as Bowie did, though. This man who transformed into so many roles with the grandest of stories after Hunky Dory made us believe anything was possible.
You could pick apart any David Bowie album, including his rough phases, and you’ll see some signs of unconventionality. Bowie simply just never wrote basically. Even his love songs are loaded with history behind them. Each and every song had a tale to tell, and that alone challenged pop music. Then you had his make up and stage presences. No one knew what to do with someone like David Bowie. People still barely know what to do with those who he influenced, whether they be Marilyn Manson or Lady Gaga. He dove into many genres after his glam rock ventures, including disco, soul, ambience and, lastly, jazz. Everything Bowie did was for some reason or another; Even his most radio friendly material, which Bowie would admittedly question himself, meant something at the time.
The point is that Bowie hit the nail on the head so often and in so many ways that it was astounding that so much came from one man. Teachers would remark on his creativity, but I don’t think anyone could have imagined the amount of genius that came out of this mind for decades. A recent website jokingly ranked your achievements against Bowie’s by stating what he was doing around your age. As I am 26, Bowie had released Aladdin Sane and was already well established as a rock star miasma.
The site humorously stated that Bowie would probably be in another part of the universe if you typed in an age Bowie hadn’t reached yet (like 287 years old, for instance). After this shocking passing, there’s no question that he’s in space somewhere, refusing to come back down after ground control has tried to reach him. David Jones has reached highs many artists could only dream about (remember those he lead the way for?). Then again, he has paved the way for us all. I talked about those who were considered weird, such as myself. He also talked to us who imagined, though. He talked to those who felt hurt, joy and anything imaginable. He was the songsmith of those blurred emotions you saw at the end of Inside Out that simply couldn’t be described by anyone else. He simply knew how to write about anything, and he bloody well did just that.
It’s nearing 4 in the morning now, and I’m zoned out. I’m listening to the number one album of his (in my opinion), which can be found at the end of this article. I’ve always had mental notes ready when it came to my favorite Bowie songs and albums, and I guess this is as good of a time as any to tell the world what they are. I’m being a geek, and it’s something Bowie would encourage. On this very sad occasion, we cannot forget the greatness that one of pop culture’s greatest stars has created. That’s part of the legacy Bowie has left: There are many Bowies to appreciate.
Thank you for these releases, David Bowie. Thank you for the other releases as well. Thank you for being the greatest listening ear any artist has ever provided for those who felt different. We will always feel like heroes under your guidance, even if it is only temporary and within our own minds. Just, simply, thank you.
Here are my top ten David Bowie albums and songs.
Top 10 Albums
This album is only two days old, but I was already remarking to my girlfriend, friends and co workers how strong this release is. It’s Bowie’s greatest album since the early 80’s. It’s cohesively bonkers with its dark jazz flows. The tales of cynicism, fear and anguish truly circulate around you. It is the furthest outside of the box he had been in ages, and it is spectacularly strong. This album is the night that fogs the city streets and the streetlights that piece the depths of obsidian. It is now a swan song, and a damn spooky one at that.
Expect a full length review, already intended, later this week.
9. The Man Who Sold the World
Bowie may have experimented better with glam, but this is where it all started. This is where Bowie displayed his confidence initially. This album is full of sass, roars and punches. This drastic departure from his folkier sounding material is only a small leap compared to the distances he sprinted towards shortly after, but this was the spark. This was the child in class you finally noticed and questioned. This was that child finally putting up their hand. The Man Who Sold the World introduced Bowie to that very planet, and we luckily listened intensively from then on.
This final part of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy is like his Graceland or Talking Heads moment. The only difference is that Bowie’s dabble in world music is absolutely insane and not unifying. Lodger is a short and awkward release that is sadly forgotten about, but critics now are starting to remember it more and more. Maybe it’s because it was the wonky dancer that was uncomfortable at first but ended up being remarkable in ways. Bowie’s take on new wave (in a way) is as geeky as it could possibly be, but that’s the charm.
Bowie tested ambience and experimental drones a bit here (we’ll get to his best instance of that later), and it was highly received. “Heroes” is part arena rock, part bedroom space out. The edge that the production had could slice through your head like the sharp hand that Bowie has flipped on the album’s cover. It is a friendly cut, though, because it is as soothing as it is vicious. “Heroes” just had a great balance to it that would have been test for other artists.
6. Aladdin Sane
5. Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
4. Station to Station
3. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
2. Hunky Dory
I’ve gone into this recorded friend a lot earlier, but I feel justified in doing so. Hunky Dory was simply ahead of its time to the point that many artists simply cannot capture its relationships nor its reliability, that it has with its listeners at all. It is nearly impossible to feel ashamed or ugly while this album is on, because it is the voice of the shy kid who talks to you after a hard day. Bowie’s folk years were practice for this classic, and the charisma he got during his glam discoveries made him as vocal as he could be. Hunky Dory is a living high school sketchbook, and all of it is as beautiful as us all.
Low is one of the weirdest releases by a mainstream artist out there. Side A: Short songs that stutter and trip over themselves. Side B: Wasteland of loneliness and self loathing. Reportedly, David Bowie had stopped taking drugs and Low was his literal Low: His life during his phases of wanting more. You hear the manic grasping of everything around him on the first half and the want to push everything away on the second. He says as much as he can at first, even if it makes little sense. On the final four songs, he says barely a word. The electronic pulses, avant garde layers and the absurd lyrics are all making sense recently. Low simply is one of the most humanistic albums ever made despite how synthetic it sounds. Speed of Life kick starts the album, and the upbeat songs that follow circle around your head. The last songs are a tornado that is impossible to trace, and the final track (Subterraneans) is one of the most chilling outros in existence. Low is the soundtrack to your mind during your stages of anguish, and nobody could capture that quite like Bowie did on his opus.
Top 10 Songs
10. Rebel Rebel
9. Teenage Wildlife
This Robert Fripp accompanied jam features Bowie belting out some of his highest notes. He wails about disconnection through uniformity. Some people truly do not grow up, as we face childish behaviors when we get older. Here, Bowie witnesses his memories of feeling frozen in a hallway. He still feels insecure, despite having left these years behind him ages ago. We still feel this way no matter how old we are, and Bowie’s channeling of Ronnie Spector (a rocker for the kids to listen to; an appropriate muse) is special.
7. China Girl
Young Americans was a mostly stellar album, and Bowie’s taste of American soul didn’t go without a reward. Fascination is like the moment the Rolling Stones discovered how affective backing vocalists could be in rock music. While Young Americans is streamed with this notion (including the title song, a very strong honourable mention amongst many others), these singers replace the banged piano keys or drum hits that could have followed Bowie’s yelps. Instead, we get a glorious realization of Bowie’s self reflections. Yes, Young Americans has a number of notable moments, but Fascination just happens to be the sleekest.
Moments of Ziggy Stardust may hit harder sonically, but Starman’s story and determination are what make it one of Bowie’s most beloved ballads. The acoustic guitar lures you in, and by the sing-a-long ending, you’re fully won over, tearful and blathering about your own problems. Starman is essentially an inspirational song that looks up and peers into the abyss with affection. It is a shooting star achieved through audible form. It wasn’t easy picking a song from Ziggy Stardust that was stronger than any of the others, but Starman is straight up beautiful, and for that reason I couldn’t see past it.
4. Station to Station
This ten minute adventure sounds like a literal distance between subway stops. You can even hear the train in transit at the start of the track. You go from one sound to another, and all of it is in full charge. You start off in a trance where the world slows down around you. The drum beats are slower and the pacing itself slinks into each hit. Once the song picks up, and you’re in another part of town, you are running to keep up. By the time the song has changed, “it’s too late”. Not a single second of it is wasted, because it all flows swimmingly.
3. Space Oddity