I can actually recall the first time I heard Space Oddity on the radio. It was sometime after its 1969 release and if memory serves me correctly, it almost made me miss my school bus. Between the haunting acoustic guitar work and the otherworldly sounds emanating from the clock radio in my room, I was transported into that tin can floating in the void. Instant David Bowie fan from that point on and what and education that was.
Suffragette City made me look up that word (the first one, silly!) and in doing so before the age of the internet, got me checking out the dictionary and then a few encyclopedias as that rabbit hole opened up as I discovered other issues related to that word. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, union organizing, women’s rights (which I don’t think were listed in much detail as far as 70’s educational tomes were concerned) and other mind-expanding bits and pieces were in the process of being uncovered. One teacher I had noted my research and gave me a few newsletters to peruse from her college days. Of course, at that age (I was about ten or eleven at that point), most of that reading material was way above my brain grade but I absorbed them anyway.
In the meantime, Bowie pressed on with his work and I caught whatever the radio played as usual, in the “random” manner radio plays stuff. The music was all enjoyably weird and while I didn’t really “get” the idea of his personas (Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke were costume variants to me), there was a strange narrative passing between artist and listener that was easy to grasp. When he made the sideways slide to films in 1976 with The Man Who Fell to Earth, I was too young to see it, but remember the TV commercial being one of the stranger ones I’d seen at that point. I didn’t get to see the film until about 1983 and it was another mind trip taken without a single drug consumed for me. By then, Bowie’s music career had gone on one of the most bizarre upswings where he went from androgynous glam rock god with a loyal following and an already impressive catalog to international superstar with a massive boost in audience and bank account.
In ’83 I also saw both The Hunger and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in the same year. Both were compelling and nicely layered performances, but he disappeared too quickly in the former film (which everyone seems to remember more for Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and Bauhas’ brilliant Bela Lugosi’s Dead) and the latter was for me, a complete downer (but a beautifully shot one). While I didn’t follow Bowie’s work as ardently as some fans, it was intriguing to see how critics and fans responded to his latest album or film performances. As with any artist, not everything was “perfection”. But it was hard not to admire Bowie for trying new things or going back to old ones for inspiration.
He even made it into he world of videogames courtesy of a collaboration with developer Quantic Dream that resulted in Omikron: The Nomad Soul for the PC and Sega Dreamcast. Bowie’s input wasn’t a mere superficial name-slap to make a quick multimedia buck at all. According to the Wikipedia entry, he was quite involved during the entire process from start to finish. The game itself didn’t do well commercially on either platform, but still garnered a loyal enough following that it’s still played today (and yes, you can get it on Steam).
(thanks, WHiRLED PEACE!)
Yes, I’m missing chunks of his career here, but it’s a dreary mess of a cold day and those tasty bits are for the more versed to cover. That and between this, Lemmy and the lovely Maureen O’Hara leaving the planet, it’s been a less musically varied world to live in lately. If you’re wondering what the fuss is all about all over the internet today, you can (and should) at least take time out to watch the mostly excellent Showtime documentary David Bowie: Five Years. Okay, enough gloom. I’ll shut up here, go get a drink and let Mr. B. close with a second version of an old favorite. “Planet Earth is blue”, indeed…