David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016). Singer and songwriter.
There has been an exodus of musical giants into the hereafter these past twelve months: songwriters Allen Toussaint and Guy Clark; singers Natalie Cole, Jean Shepard, Vanity, and Scott Weiland; keyboardists Keith Emerson and Bernie Worrell; guitarists Glenn Frey, Lonnie Mack, and Scotty Moore; drummers John Bradbury, Dale Griffin, Nick Menza, and Naná Vasconcelos; composers and conductors Pierre Boulez, Tony Conrad, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Kurt Masur, Neville Marriner, Stephen Stucky, and Elizabeth Swados; jazz artists Paul Bley, Bobby Hutcherson, and Toots Thielemans; Lemmy Kilmister and Phil Taylor of Motörhead; Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson of Jefferson Airplane; Cynthia Robinson of Sly and the Family Stone; Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire; Alan Vega of Suicide; Beatles producer George Martin; synthesizer inventor Don Buchla; zydeco accordionist Stanley Dural Jr; singer-songwriter Merle Haggard; musician-poet Gil Scott-Heron; rapper Phife Dawg; and the virtuoso Prince.
The subject of this year’s Memorial Jack-o-lantern is singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, painter, and actor David Bowie. He died on January 10 at age 69.
Born David Robert Jones in South London, his initial musical inspiration came from Little Richard. A high school fight over a girl left David’s left eye permanently dilated (an otherworldly look he later came to appreciate).
In 1965 he adopted the name Bowie (after the knife) due to the rising popularity of Monkees star Davy Jones. After a few years of false starts and rejections, Bowie had a hit with “Space Oddity” (inspired by Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey). But it was the creation of Ziggy Stardust in 1972 that really launched Bowie into stardom, and the rest is pop music history.
He studied saxophone and miming. He wrote a song about a laughing gnome. He was goblin king, vampire, alien, and Pontius Pilate on the silver screen.
Bowie’s collaborators include John Lennon, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Bing Crosby, Mott the Hoople, and Queen. In the mid-seventies, Bowie befriended and encouraged Nina Simone. “He’s got more sense than anybody I’ve ever known,” she said. “It’s not human—David ain’t from here.”
The album Blackstar was released two days before Bowie’s death. The album’s themes made it posthumously clear that he was artfully experiencing the process of dying—a masterful end to a life of creativity and reinvention.
Thanks for the music David, and may we turn and face the strange.
For a deep dive into David Bowie’s career, check out the Year of the Bowie podcast.