secondWhen you read this, the David Bowie tribute concert will be over, and an unholy alliance of Ricky Gervais, Yungblud, Boy George, and the Slipknot boy, and roughly two dozen other artists, should have laid their best Bowie impressions to bed. . .
However, there is still time to grasp the true essence of Bowie, in a stream of Lazarus, the musical featuring part of the artist’s final production, filmed in 2016 and available only this weekend, as well as BBC radio. Bowie five years later thread and, in the iPlayer, Bowie on the BBC.
Last week, Bowie’s music made it to TikTok. Friday will see Stardust, an unauthorized Bowie biopic starring Johnny Flynn, hit streaming platforms and with it renewed the debate about the annoying art of portraying beloved musicians on screen. Five years after Bowie’s death, we can’t seem to stop talking about him.
The reasons are many – there’s probably one for every Bowie character, from the embryonic modernist of the 1960s, to the sexually ambiguous meta-rock star, to the jazz and hip-hop-inspired author. Black Star, his latest haunting album.
The death of an artist always gives his catalogs a new life. But witness the deluge of Bowie boxes, live albums and rarities, the licensed and unlicensed trinkets and ephemeral objects that have been spilled in an effort to satisfy what is undoubtedly a desire to get it back. This year promises more live albums and a long shot of a nineties box.
The clues to this most charming of afterlife begin in the music. Bowie finds himself straddling the realms of short-lived pop and serious rock, with staunch deviations toward soul, disco, and creating dystopian experimental sounds. People continue to feel very strongly, even proprietary, given the social media reaction they have surrounded Stardust – about his idea of Bowie.
Bowie had the scope and ability to be a complete record collection. Bowie of the 1980s, great suit and chart face, loved by radio and talk shows, shared a psyche with the art-rock drug enthusiast loved by music journalists and other supplicants in the ungodly triptych consisting of Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
Legend has it that a significant proportion of the people who watched the Sex Pistols went on to form bands. Bowie affected misfits and seekers in an even deeper way, illuminating a tactile role in anyone too scandalous or misunderstood to be contained by his own. “cold gray mansions”.
Designers, photographers, makeup artists and writers, creators of all stripes, responded viscerally to Bowie’s onslaught of characters, narratives, outfits, haircuts, poses, and pronouncements. Embodying the best of art school creativity, he did so for several generations. Having brought a character and a sound to life, Bowie also had the courage to burn down the building and start over, over and over again, during the 1970s.
By embracing mime, space and the Lurex, the popular and the intellectual, he shaped the aesthetic of many of those who would become guardians of British culture, people who would green-light V&A exhibitions or special seasons of films in the BFI. It’s hard to think of a figure as radical as Bowie who is so adored and so easily forgiven.
Few artists of any category have an unblemished reputation. But Bowie seems to have survived a time when he raved about fascism and Hitler with Cameron Crowe in an interview during his Thin White Duke stint.
He, of course, would back down on those statements, hinting that his copious drug use at the time was the culprit.
His action was not irreparably damaged. Bowie’s true nature seemed, if anything, that of an internationalist. Though he was utterly British, a Beckenham boy, attuned to American rhythm and blues and European modernism, a Carnaby Street rake, Bowie was anything but a parochial homebody.
From his adoption of the Kabuki theater to Jacques Brel and his affinity for Berlin, Bowie was a citizen of the world. One of the best things about Bowie is this borderless quality: his insatiable appetite to cross disciplines, his ambiguity: the non-binary form he presented, decades ahead of the curve; human, alien, other. It was silver, impossible to pin down. He endures, more surprising now than ever, like a beacon of restless multiplicity.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism