Why Bowie matters

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There has been a recent flurry of David Bowie activity with his first album release in a decade, short films produced for the new songs, an exhibition at the V&A Museum, photography exhibitions, heaps of press and chitchat ping-ponging throughout the Twittersphere. He kept his album under CIA-like wraps, does not plan to tour to promote the album nor has he agreed to interviews in this recent burst of Bowie-ness. Yet many of us are fully engaged and still smitten which raises the question, “Why are we still obsessed with Bowie?”

I am not alone when I admit to my David Bowie fixation. It began when I started seriously collecting and listening to records in my early teens. I had “The Bowie Wall” in my room, with photos painstakingly cut out and pasted as a mural-like collage, but this was only a superficial marking. Like many teens trying on new personas in the process of discovering themselves, I was fascinated with the way he could exquisitely morph into a new character as easily as slipping on a new coat. I embraced the freakishness of Ziggy, Aladdin and the Thin White Duke as an eccentric and (let’s just say it) “misunderstood” teenager in the midst of a small and conservative New England town (at least I could mutter to myself, “Well, Bowie would understand…”).

However, essentially my obsession was with his music. Bowie wrote and performed in many different styles and genres, and he did it profoundly well and with great finesse. But his songs were not just sophisticated artifice as even though they were carefully constructed, the emotion still ran high. I cried many times while listening to the song “Life on Mars” and recently read that Bowie himself cried in the studio when he finished recording the vocals to the song. I wonder if he ever considered that the pulse of this overwhelming feeling would transmit through barriers of time and space and into the bedroom of a 15-year-old girl over a decade later?

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Bowie transformed people with his music and his outlandish characters inspired and protected those of us who didn’t quite fit in. So many musicians have said that witnessing him perform “Starman” in full Ziggy regalia on Top of the Pops in 1972 changed their lives and inspired them to become artists themselves. The reason many of us are still obsessed with Bowie is because he helped us define who we were. His music and characters encouraged us to transform into the people we would eventually become. Without the influence of David Bowie, I believe I would have been a different person. I suppose that is why Bowie still matters to so many of us.

Classic Album Sundays and Red Bull Music Academy will present a David Bowie Special on Sunday, 5 May at the New Museum in New York City. As the founder of CAS, I will co-present three Bowie albums alongside the producer of each featured album:
“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” with Ken Scott
“Heroes” with Tony Visconti
“Let’s Dance” with Nile Rodgers
More information here »

Classic Album Sundays has also created a documentary style YouTube playlist, uncovering the story behind the making of “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”, and revealing why it is still relevant today. Get your freak on!

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