“I’m in heaven,
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now.”
This week, on his sixty-ninth birthday, David Bowie released Blackstar or ★. His twenty-fifth and final album, the track Lazarus was released back on December 17. It opens with the above lyrics.
David Bowie died today. The Thin White Duke has finally given way to an eighteen-month battle with cancer. The news has had a monumental effect on the music industry, greater society, and everything he’s released in the past eighteen months – no less the aforementioned lyrics, which have now taken on a haunting new meaning, given that Bowie knew this would be his final album and his final ever single. Lastly, it’s had an effect on me.
To learn about Bowie’s influence on music in general, simply turn to Wikipedia or your nearest newspaper. The following obituary looks at how Bowie impacted me, specifically. In turn, I hope – nay, know – that many of you will have experienced something similar, be it Bowie or another artist. It’s moments like this that make us realise how important music is to us. As an editor, the end game is not the clicks, or the dollars, or the high profile interviews. It’s about the music. And David Bowie’s death has reminded me of that.
David Bowie was one of the first artists I was properly introduced to at eleven or twelve years old. It was, of course, the song Space Oddity, as well as the album Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. At the time I wasn’t sure what to think of this strange content. As a typical girl growing up in the nineties, I loved the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys. Then, when I began “properly” discovering music, it was Silverchair, Nirvana, Deftones, Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath – and David Bowie. To date, I’ve owned four copies of Ziggy Stardust, and at least two each of David Bowie, Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane, purely because I scratched them by listening too much.
Listening to Bowie was one of the first times that I discovered how much music can have an impact on you personally. The lyrics spoke to me. And realising this music had been recorded thirty years before I was born only strengthened the impact. The crazy, science fiction, futuristic lyrics about tall, short, fat, skinny people, and spiders from Mars, about making love with an ego, and moonage daydreams. I had no idea what half of it meant, but it spoke to me.
Much to the dismay of my mum and dad, twelve-year-old Lauren spent pretty much all of her batmitzvah money on a second hand Fender Stratocaster: black with a white pick guard, just like what Jimi Hendrix played. Ziggy Stardust was the third song I ever learnt (after Californication and Little Wing.)
In 2004, my dad took me to see David Bowie on his Reality tour. It was Bowie’s first Australian tour since 1987 and our first show together; it was also the first time live music ever made me cry.
A few years later, I was in eleventh grade. I wrote an essay about the impact of music. I focused on two songs: Radiohead’s Pyramid Song and David Bowie’s Five Years. To this day I have had to skip that track in company because it makes me weep. Today, I’m letting the tears flow.
In my twelfth and final year of high school, my jersey bore the name Stardust, because I, like my dad before me, had earned the nickname “Ziggy,” the result of our surname and our love of Bowie.
That same year I saw the Bowie-and-Iggy-Pop-inspired film Velvet Goldmine, a glamorous take on bisexuality, homosexuality, hedonism and rock ‘n roll. Growing up with a traditional Jewish family, this was the very first time I realised that it was okay to feel what I was feeling.
A few years later, I moved to London. One of the first things I did was embark on a self-directed musical tour, the first stop of which was the back alley where the front cover of Ziggy Stardust was shot. Among other reasons, my move across the seas was prompted by my first collision with depression. Rock N Roll Suicide lamented the death of Ziggy Stardust, but it also professed something I needed to hear at exactly that moment: “You’re not alone.”
In 2013, history was made when astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a cover of Space Oddity performed from the International Space Station, the very first music video recorded in space. This too made me cry (at this point I should mention that music doesn’t actually make me cry often, Bowie just happens to be a major catalyst,) because a song I’d loved for so long had literally achieved universal recognition.
While I’ve strayed from my rock ‘n roll roots, Bowie has never left me. From the simplest moments, like taking friends on road trips and showing them Suffragette City and Diamond Dogs for the first time, to reconnecting with Ziggy Stardust at 25 years old, to most recently hearing that he’d been inspired by Kendrick Lamar and Death Grips, both Bowie himself and his music have never left my side.
A pioneer, a chameleon, a game-changer, an influence, a legend.
I wouldn’t be here writing about music, if it weren’t for David Bowie.
Many of your favourite musicians wouldn’t be here creating music, if it weren’t for David Bowie.
And the most important thing right now is that he hasn’t just impacted me, but you, too.
Rest in peace.
Image: LA Times