Music

Afterlife on Mars: The Life and Legacy of David Bowie

Casey Nugent ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

David Bowie, art-rock icon and musical pioneer, died of cancer on January 10, 2016. He was 69.

In the wake of his death, we here at Emertainment Monthly wish to look back on his life and work, and the impact he had on the music industry as a whole. Bowie was a man defined by his refusal to fit a definition. To boil down his immense and complex career into a playlist of essential songs is too difficult to do, and would almost certainly fail to grasp the measure of his star power and status.

Bowie will perhaps be remembered best for his iconic imagery and style. His fascination with persona and self-image came from Avant-garde circus and dance, which he studied at the end of the 1960s. Bowie’s willingness to play with everything, including sexuality, fashion, and identity, solidified his status as a major figure of the late 60s and 70s’ countercultures.

Bowie released his first album in 1967, but failed to chart in the UK until his 1969 hit “Space Oddity.” It took him another four years and two albums to reach the United States, as his high-concept alien alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy Stardust remains one of Bowie’s most iconic phases. It’s hard to think of Bowie and not think of space, which was a major theme in much of his early work in the 70s. Songs like “Starman” and “Life on Mars?” remain classic rock staples.

But the always-innovative Bowie wasn’t content to stay with one character for too long, and killed off Ziggy Stardust to move onto something new. Over the next decade, Bowie would make important collaborations with artists like Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Queen, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon. He also began an acting career on the stage in The Elephant Man and on the screen in the trippy sci-fi cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth. He moved from glam rock to soul and funk, and his 1975 release Young Americans yielded his first US single, “Fame.” He went from funk to rock pop, from rock pop to New Wave, and from New Wave to Electronic to Neoclassicism. While the constant shifting of Bowie’s musical style and personal identity alienated many at the time, it’s clear looking back that he was a forward thinker, and that his constant evolution as an artist is what kept him so relevant in pop culture for so long.

Almost everyone has some relevant pop culture memory of David Bowie. For younger fans, it might be his turn as the Goblin King in the trippy Labyrinth, or the use of his hit “Heroes” in the coming of age film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Others might point to his redefining of pop music in the 1970s, with his stage presence adding an extra layer of performance to music. But perhaps Bowie’s most important contribution to society was making “weird,” cool. Bowie was a pioneer of strangeness, an encourager of thinking outside the box, outside the planet. His work inspired many young artists and music lovers to embrace their inner oddities and Avant-garde sensibilities. While Bowie was by no means a perfect man, plagued by drug problems and the occasional scandal, there’s no doubting the impact his legacy had on younger generations of artists. Everyone who indulges their inner weird owes a small debt to Bowie for bringing it unashamedly into the mainstream.

David Bowie will be missed by many, but his music will play on, and his legacy will continue in the work of others. We are made of dust, but it’s to stardust that Bowie will return.

 

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