Obit: David Bowie’s legacy has been carved into our collective consciousness

David Bowie's chameleon-esque ability to croon and challenge and defy in so many different genres is the hallmark of a restless agent provocateur.

Written by Yamini Lohia | New Delhi | Published:January 11, 2016 7:33 pm
David Bowie, David Bowie musician, David Bowie obit, David Bowie obituary, David Bowie best songs. David Bowie nostalgia, Legendary musician David Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016, after battling cancer for 18 months. (Source: AP)

So, the Thin White Duke is no longer with us, perishing to cancer at 69 years of age just days after dropping a new, characteristically brilliant and inquisitive, album (Blackstar). It would be an understatement to describe British rockstar — one of the few truly deserving of the overused epithet, “legend” — David Bowie’s demise as a great loss.

Over a career that spanned decades and musical styles, he released 25 studio albums (including Space Oddity {1969}, The Man Who Sold The World {1970}, Hunky Dory (1971} and Low {1977}), influencing everyone from Madonna and Lady Gaga to Depeche Mode to Blur and Pulp to Radiohead and The Arcade Fire. His work was no less vital for its constant reinvention; indeed, the Duke was born only after the life and death of his androgynous, highly sexual alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, a character that has long served as a shorthand for all of glam rock.

This penchant for remaking himself — and rock music — meant that as an 11-year-old, I had rather an odd introduction to Bowie, though, perhaps any entry point into Bowie’s elliptical and enigmatic career could be termed odd. For about three years, Bowie was Goblin King Jareth from Jim Henson’s cult classic Labyrinth, a strangely compelling villain almost more interesting than the protagonist.

Also read: 10 songs to remember legendary musician David Bowie by

Fast forward to when I was 14, getting my feet wet with more experimental rock via mixtapes and compilations, and I heard “Heroes”, a beautiful, stripped down song about a man seeking love and warmth, if just for one day, by one David Bowie. Surely this wasn’t the same Bowie, I asked the Internet, and Yahoo replied with a resounding “yes”. From there I discovered Bowie influences everywhere — as the originator of Kurt Cobain’s anguished Unplugged performance of “The Man Who Sold The World”, Freddie Mercury’s backup guy in “Under Pressure”, Mick Jagger’s counterpoint in “Dancing in the Street”, and the man in that one John Lennon song about “Fame”. You could understand why it was such a coup for Christopher Nolan to have convinced Bowie to play Nikolas Tesla in The Prestige; much like his character, the elusive Bowie cast a vast glow across the world of music.

But, then, this chameleon-esque ability to croon and challenge and defy in so many different genres is the hallmark of a restless agent provocateur who, even in what has so tragically turned out to be his last record, was experimenting at the edges of art and jazz and rock, so unsettlingly preoccupied by death and the dying (“Lazarus”, for instance, opens with “Look up here, I’m in Heaven”).

Together with frequent collaborators Lou Reed (whose “Transformer” he helped produce) and Iggy Pop (a fictionalised version of which relationship is chronicled in Todd Haynes’ excellent tribute to glam rock, “Velvet Goldmine”), Bowie’s legacy has already been carved into our collective consciousness.