The world of music took a surprising and saddening turn on Jan. 10 with the passing of David Bowie. The singer slipped away quietly leaving behind a stunned public that never had a chance to prepare for his death. The fact that he released an album three days prior only added to the shock.
A chameleoneonic personality, Bowie’s endless reinvention was unique in pop culture. His ability to remain relevant throughout his 50-year career was unmatched in a business where musicians are lucky to have a shelf life that extends beyond two albums. While bands like the Rolling Stones still go on tour, rehashing their hits for legions of fans, Bowie continued to be an ambassador for reinvention and rejuvenation.
He collaborated with everyone from Trent Reznor to Freddie Mercury to Bing Crosby, never coming across as disingenuous or insincere. He maintained an impressive creative output until the end of his life, never resting on past accomplishments or tried formulas.
Bowie’s onstage persona and early output was distinguished by the invention of extraordinary, over-the-top characters that served as otherworldly vehicles for his creative output. Characters such as Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust developed a life of their own, ones that Bowie was never tied to. He could abandon one and reinvent another, all the while creating a cohesive body of work that was diverse but always “Bowie.”
To maintain a relatively secluded and uninterrupted private life, he let these characters become the larger-than-life entities necessary to entertain arenas full of adoring fans, from which Bowie the man could maintain a safe distance.
His abstract lyrics were bolstered by confident delivery and acute visual imagery. Although they rarely told a cohesive story, his lyrics were combinations of compelling couplets that hinted at the development of a deeply introspective man. His best lyrical moments alluded to deeper truths about humanity’s existence—from the silly to the profound and everything in between.
With a great gift for song craft Bowie could traverse genres with relative ease, proving that it’s hard to argue with a well-composed melody. From the simple three-chord rock of “Rebel Rebel” to the complicated chord structure of “Life on Mars,” he proved his musical chops transcended his outlandish delivery.
Even those too conservative to embrace Bowie at his most outlandish would have found themselves turning up the dial to “Modern Love” or tapping their feet to “Fame.” His music contained such a broad spectrum of palettes and colours that there was something for everybody.
Here is a verse from “Changes,” one of Bowie’s best-known songs:
“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same”