The world lost an iconic rocker the other day. No, not Lemmy. Sorry. David Bowie. I myself am not a huge Bowie fan but it is hard to be a fan of rock and roll and not at least have a modicum of respect for what the man created. I was talking to my father about this last night and he brought up a good point. His point was that if you asked twenty people on the street to name five Bowie songs you might only get two or three who could name more than one or two. So the question is; what was Bowie’s appeal?
The answer is a lot simpler than you may think. Like him or love him, you have to admit that Bowie was essentially a cartoon. However, he was a cartoon that was part of something dark, mysterious, taboo and exclusionary. He was part of the underground in a time frame that spanned two decades whose sole purpose was to highlight and celebrate excess. In a time where openly singing about drugs, cross-dressing on stage and all of the snap crackle and pop of early punk rock shows were the norm, Bowie was involved in another realm which seemed to smuggly smirk at the rest of the music world. Like he and his friends knew something that the rest of us would never know.
Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Bowie, Burroughs, Warhol… you put those guys in the same room and something horrifically wonderful is going to happen. And it did. Bowie and his colleagues don’t stand the test of time because of their pedestal created by pretentious hipsters, who as of this moment are probably maniacally trying to get every Bowie EP and LP every made on vinyl into their studio apartments in the East Village. They stand the test of time because they simply didn’t care. They were part of a subculture (I really hate that word) which required a, “come as you are” lifestyle and demanded an, “I don’t give a shit” attitude for entry. It was a group of caricatures brought together by a desire to push boundaries which was almost as pressing as their drug habits. They also had a common theme; music. Or to a more pointed extent; performing and art. People looked up to that crew even if they didn’t agree with what they stood for or condoned their actions.
So in the end it is sad that he is gone. But what is more upsetting is that there is no more underground. Music today doesn’t have that bizarre crew somewhere off in the wings practicing and doing lines before a show in a relatively small club or concert hall. A bizarre crew whose influence in that small venue rivals that of the headliners in the biggest arenas. The closest we have today is who? Miley Cyrus? Someone ought to tell her that things aren’t scandalous when they’ve been laboriously planned by a production team. To her fans; no, you are not complex, unique or “quirky.” You’re just whiny. There are no more Ziggy Stardusts.
Music, for a pop star, has become a paycheck and an opportunity to blame being an asshole on the media so that one day they can apologize for their crass and outlandish behavior and make a Christmas album when they need tax money. For Bowie and the rest of that odd gathering of artists, it was always about being an asshole first, blaming bad dope procured for them by the people who cut their checks, never apologizing because an apology meant that there was intent. And most importantly, one day going out on their own terms. Bowie did that.
Nat a bad final performance.