Remembering David Bowie's Risks and Restlessness

Genre-defying pioneer David Bowie succumbed to an eighteen-month battle with cancer on Sunday evening, and left a massive hole in the world’s musical landscape. A statement issued on his social media accounts said that he “died peacefully surrounded by family.”

Bowie was an artist in the truest sense of the word, never afraid of his celebrated back catalog, but never reliant on it either. It’s apt that his latest and last album of new material, Blackstar, was released on Friday, just days before his death, and true to form it challenged the very idea of what a Bowie album sounds like. Friend and longtime collaborator Tony Visconti said in a statement on Facebook, “He made Blackstar for us. It’s his parting gift.”

“His death was no different from his life - a work of Art,” Visconti wrote. “I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

In a review of Blackstar for Westword last week, Jon Solomon said that while it's not a jazz album, Blackstar demonstrates Bowie's impeccable taste in recruiting some of the genre's greats. "And sometimes putting jazz players into a rock setting can achieve exciting results," Solomon wrote. "In Blackstar's case, it put Bowie in a slightly different context, and he sounds renewed."

If Bowie read that review, we would have to believe it made him smile, because soaking in influences from all over everywhere and putting them into a Bowie context was what he was all about. Occasionally, he was wrongly accused of bandwagon-jumping but those people were missing the point.

On 1995’s Outside, for example, listeners could hear him soaking in the work of contemporary industrial artists like Nine Inch Nails and spitting out a dark, nasty album that was thrilling — yet clearly still Bowie. The following year he released Earthling, and while the great man’s focus had shifted to drum and bass music by then, the album was not an attempt to copy anyone.

Back in ’95, Michael Roberts reviewed Bowie in concert with Nine Inch Nails, describing Bowie as “a man who keeps taking imaginative risks even though his past wagers have caused him to lose and/or regain his audience far more than any of his contemporaries.”

That’s perfect: Being a risk-taker is part of what made Bowie Bowie.

Bowie will be remembered by many for albums like Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Space Oddity, Diamond Dogs and “Heroes." His arsenal is packed with bonafide classics. Reflecting on Hunky Dory  in 2011, Josiah M. Hesse wrote, “Bowie’s confidence in his songwriting talent was unfazed by the lack of commercial success; restless to show off what he could do, he simply moved on to the next project.”

Sir Paul McCartney described him to the BBC as a “great star” who “played a very strong part in British musical history.”

Bowie’s son and BAFTA-winning film director Duncan Jones wrote on Twitter, “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

The tributes continue to pour in, with friend and collaborator Iggy Pop writing on Twitter, “David's friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is."

Madonna also tweeted that she was “devastated” and that Bowie had “changed her life,” while Kanye West described him as one of his most important inspirations.

The fact that Bowie was revered by musicians from so any genres speaks volumes for the man as an artist.

Just this last weekend, Bowie’s birthday was celebrated at Denver's hi-dive with Bowiefest, featuring local bands like I Am Love, Shady Elders, Ancient Elk, Bark Wilson and SCARY DRUGS paying tribute to the man and showing just how far his influence has spread.

When musicians die, the praise will always be heaped on by the shovel-full. But when we say that there will never be another one like David Bowie, you’d better believe it. Perhaps the modern musical climate will no longer allow for a star of his stature to experiment and evolve in such a drastic fashion. In addition to his incredible music, David Bowie’s lasting impact should be his restlessness, and all that becomes possible by the desire to keep moving. 

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