There’s always an interesting discussion among David Bowie fans when the question “When did you first discover his music?” crops up.
The question’s significant because Bowie albums, for fans, are like signposts for the chapters of their lives. His fans can often tell a lot about one another according to the album by which they discovered him.
Case in point, my forays into the Bowie universe of music began with the “Let’s Dance” period, circa ‘83. I was around 12 years old, watching the video for that album’s title song. The television image was of star-crossed lovers in some Third World paradise, watching as a mushroom cloud rises over the horizon. The video cuts back and forth between the couple and scenes of the suited, lean platinum-haired singer, fully resurrected from being “strung out on heaven’s high.”
“Who is that?” I asked my older brother.
“That’s David Bowie,” my brother replied, saying something along the lines of “he’s kind of weird.”
Thus began my lifelong Bowie journey. Since then, regardless of wherever life has taken me, there’s always been a Bowie song to provide the soundtrack for the moment. I suspect it’s like that for most Bowie fans like me, a child of the ‘80s who grinded through his teenage years with “Changes,” moved into a new apartment in the big city with “Young Americans,” and went on a road trip with “Hours.”
I also think about how transformational it must have been for teenagers in the early ‘70s to see an androgynous image of Bowie in full-on Ziggy Stardust mode, taking a cosmic page from Little Richard, bending the rules of gender perception in rock music, and driving parents everywhere insane. “Gotta make way for the homo-superior.”
His image alone made it a bit easier for malcontents, rebels, gays, lumpenproletariat and young dudes and dudettes everywhere to fly their freak flag high, and with pride.
As a black man, I also took great comfort in knowing that Bowie was a true soul man in a multitude of ways. His love and appreciation of black music forms and aesthetics was obvious, whether he was performing “Golden Years” on TV’s “Soul Train” or playing saxophone on “Black Tie, White Noise.” Not to mention, he married a statuesque Somali queen, Iman. He also was a vocal opponent of MTV’s refusal to air videos by black artists during the ‘80s.
As I launch into Bowie’s latest, final album “Blackstar,” there is a great sadness in knowing that my journey with his music, in terms of new material (sans the countless unreleased demos that are no doubt on their way) is over — a soundtrack that for me began as a pre-teen boy, now ends in my mid-40s.
Over the next few days, like many of my fellow Bowie fans, I will listen intently for some hidden messages between the lyrics of “Blackstar,” — perhaps seeking even some guidance or direction.
Regardless, I am forever thankful and grateful to Bowie for this amazing musical ride — one that I will revisit with great enthusiasm for the rest of my life, whether I am enjoying “The Berlin Trilogy” over morning tea, or jamming out to “Tin Machine” on the treadmill.
Sayonara, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, Major Tom…
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.