Giada Nizzoli remembers the impact and influence of pop genius David Bowie, who sadly died today.
Whether you’re a long-time fan or were simply thrilled by the lightning bolt crossing his face, whether you own his entire discography or only one of his records, a tape or just a few tunes in your playlist, whether you know all his songs by heart or you just like the adrenaline rush provoked by the energetic refrain of Heroes: I am sure the news of David Bowie’s death today had some effect on you.
Where were you when it happened? That’s the first question that comes to my mind whenever something big happens somewhere in the world, or when, as in this case, a legend dies.
Musicians, artists and fans have commemorated him, thanked him or acknowledged his genius: as actor Simon Pegg wrote on Instagram, “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”
Some of us might even have been lucky enough to see him perform when he paid visit to our good old island. In 1965, an eighteen-year-old Bowie performed at the Bird Cage, at the Eastney Club. He obviously wasn’t a fully-fledged frontman at that point, but when he came back, seven years later, he had already turned into the glittery, immortal Ziggy Stardust, singing for a lucky audience at the Southsea Pier Pavilion.
Some might remember him for Space Oddity, Heroes or Let’s Dance. Some might have followed his career until his very last record, released barely two days before his departure; don’t the lyrics of Lazarus feel like a prophecy, now? “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”. I admit, it gives me goosebumps.
But what has the world really lost today? Who was –is – David Bowie?
He is an icon, and as an icon he will live forever –through his songs, album covers, films and quotes – so I apologise to grammar pedants for not using the past tense here: he is still an icon. Throughout his long career he managed to create different personas, experiment in certain styles (rock, plastic soul, soul, funk, electronic, pop), pioneer others (such as glam rock), collaborate with important artists (Queen, John Lennon, Tina Turner, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed…) and yet remained one of a kind, inimitable.
David Bowie is an artist. He is not only a singer, but also a songwriter; he can play, and not only guitars, saxophone and keyboards too. He likes painting, dancing and he is, of course, an actor. He starred in many productions for cinema and theatres, including Broadway (The Elephant Man). The ’70s and ’80s kids, though, will probably remember him for the fantasy film Labyrinth (1986). I wasn’t born yet, but I am definitely part of the category who watched The Prestige (2006) and struggled to recognise him in the elegant attire of the visionary scientist Nikola Tesla. I couldn’t spot the rock star until I noticed Tesla had one eye of a different colour.
David Bowie is an alien. He is the androgynous Ziggy Stardust, singing tunes from outer space such as ‘Starman‘ in his flamboyant clothes and unnaturally red hair. If you were a kid in the ’70s – the time before easy internet fact-checking – you may believed for a moment he did actually came from outer space. He is the Thin White Duke, in his smart white shirt and dark waistcoat: a ‘mad aristocrat’ guise which appeared after Bowie appeared in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).
Finally, David Bowie is a man, an earthling just like us: he has been through significant struggles (his personas, it has emerged, were undermining his own mental health, affecting his real personality), including the war many rock stars have to fight: drugs. Most of all, he is a man with a dream: he formed his first band when he was barely fifteen years old, in South London and, with perseverance, he made it to enormous stages worldwide, spreading his message of hope, individuality and reinvention.
Personally, I want to thank him for making me feel that I have the world in my hands whenever I listen to Heroes, just for a second, just for one day. Or forever and ever?