Floating in the midst of millions of other fans mourning the loss of David Bowie, it’s hard to find just one or a few common themes about what Bowie and his music represented. For me, it was the hard rock of “Jean Genie,” “Suffragette City” and “Rebel, Rebel,” the anti-brand William Gibson-esque message of “Fashion” (you can almost hear “facist” if you listen to the doubling vocal track), and the highly danceable “Modern Love.” For some of my WPRB-FM friends, David Bowie epitomized every hip, trendy and erudite movement in the music business. From Lou Reed’s influence on his early career (much of which I believe is captured in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) to Rick Wakeman’s keyboards on “Space Oddity” to Bowie’s “This Is Not America” collaboration with Pat Metheny to his meta-meta-Christmas “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby (!!), Bowie intersected just about every plane of the music business, driving a perpendicular to each facet to reveal a new experience, a new tonal style, a new interpretation of something that had sedimented into our collective musical history.
When I heard of his death this morning my first thought was of some radio station friends who loved Bowie with nearly religious fervor. I get it, at least with three decades of hindsight. They felt what I did when Chris Squire died last May; a pillar of the soundtrack to our salad days was suddenly removed from its rightful place. We can’t count on that musical constant of constant change, and we are collectively, socially, poorer for it. We deal with uncertainty by looking for those things that are familiar; no matter how hard the work day or parenting night might be, you could listen to some Bowie (or Yes or Rush) and be grounded, at least temporarily. While those artists are alive, we refuse to age; when we lose our musical heroes we are fragile and exposed through those cracks in our framing.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Be weird. Be different. Define culture as you wish to be observed, because culture is all about observing how ideas spread. And if you’re asked to play keyboards for an upcoming artist whose music seems completely different, get more than twenty quid for it (read: Wakeman on “Space Oddity”) because you may just be providing the music for the dispersion of those new ideas.