Sometime in 1971 an otherworldly being descended down to earth. After one simple finger point and smile down the lens on Top of the Pops, Ziggy Stardust fever and our love of this ever-changing character began. We take certain things for granted in pop culture these days, but when David Bowie in 1972 stated in an interview to Melody Maker that he was gay, it was life changing for many kooks sat at home feeling like they didn’t belong. Now they had their very own oddity to pin up. ‘Oh no love, you’re not alone’ is a hand squeeze from someone who throughout the late 60s and 70s consistently challenged notions of sexuality and gender. Bowie was, and perhaps always will be, an icon for anyone who has felt a little out of place, an alien on their home planet.
It will never cease to amaze me how much thought has really gone into Bowie’s work. Often it is a patchwork of never ending references. From the garbled philosophy to religious iconography, from celebrities to literature, he cherry picks from all the random bits of knowledge that we all know gets gathered in that empty space in our heads and turns them into ballads with wacky chord shifts, or pop classics with groundbreaking music videos. But that’s not to say he wasn’t an innovator. Or at least, he rather uncannily seemed to be able to see the future at times. He was one of the first stars to really understand how the music video and MTV would change our relationship with music and video forever. He also was one of the early adopters of the internet, even providing fans with his own dial up connection, as well as being one of the first musicians to switch to mp3. He championed hip-hop before it was cool, and could see how disco, and later techno, would forever alter the boundaries between pop and rock.
Some of you might have had the chance to pay a visit to the V&A’s ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibit a few years back. What really stuck with me was the final segment, which was simply entitled ‘David Bowie Is Everywhere’. In a clinical, separate room was a collection of images and objects, which were heavily indebted to the work of David Bowie. Some of these were musicians, their work taking inspiration from Bowie. Some was from the fashion world, decades of trends that had delved into the many incarnations of him. Then you had further works – films and television shows who’s characters were obviously inspired by his work, iconography in advertising, in literature, in art, in, well, just about everything. It was overwhelming. It became a bit of a game to me: everyday find a David Bowie reference. Of course, you’re going to find them once you start looking, especially if you’re a little bit obsessed like me, but even my less enthusiastic friends managed to successfully join in.
Entering the world in 1947, he has left it immeasurably altered. It’s hard to really pin point another icon who has managed to become quite so embedded in our universal pop culture and psyche as David Bowie. There’s an argument that Bowie laid the foundations for much of our modern world, and I find it difficult to entirely crush this notion. Regardless of your opinions of the man or his art it’s hard to imagine what the world today would look like without the work of David Bowie. It truly does feel like we’ve lost someone who only really comes around once.