David Bowie's Grammy wins show that even after death, his artistic legacy lives on
Having swept the Grammys 14 months aftr his death, an examination of the artistic legacy of David Bowie
The 59th Grammy Awards that took place on 12 February 2017 saw David Bowie win all five categories he was nominated in. Wham bam, thank you, ma'am! He may not have been there to accept these awards for his album Black Star, but in some sense Bowie is everywhere.
He will live on forever. Future generations will discover Bowie one way or the other. Their appreciation for him and his music will vary from “He's pretty good” to “He is my God” depending on how much they pay attention. I paid attention from a very early age. He is my God.
Everyone calls their musical hero a “genius”, and on the day that hero dies, that word is echoed by others, die-hard fans or not, for a day or two on social media. The day David Bowie died (and several days that followed) something quite extraordinary happened. It seemed half the world was responding to the news at a “Princess Diana” level-of-loss while the rest of the world was watching in awe, thinking “Who was this guy?”. The tributes were astounding. No one to my knowledge has provoked a team of astronomers to register a constellation in their honour. The Starman got his due.
Borrowing from Peter Nicholls of the band IQHQ, this was and still is Bowie:
“He was without doubt a supremely gifted songwriter and enormously charismatic performer, a prodigiously talented and courageous cultural innovator with an insatiable appetite for experimentation and risk-taking. Perhaps above all, though, he was quite simply the most accomplished and versatile singer of his generation, a renowned one-take wonder, thanks to his self-confessed notoriously short attention span in the studio.”
Bowie's charisma was otherworldly. He was exquisitely and strangely beautiful — as if he really had fallen to Earth. He was put here to challenge norms. His intelligence was also 'otherworldly' in a sense — you can see it in old interviews of a 20-something Bowie. You'll spot those subtle moments where the young Bowie is quietly amused amidst a serious conversation but doesn't share those thoughts with the interviewer. On the occasions when does, he eloquently challenges the interviewer.
Before his career took off, Bowie studied mime under Lindsay Kemp, who would later become one of the world's most notable mime artists. Mime served as a foundation for Bowie's performance art that gave life to his several alter-egos like Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous glam rock and roll character from outer space with a penchant for Japanese fashion and Kabuki. Of all of Bowie's brilliant personas, Ziggy Stardust was by far his most seductive. The impact his alter-ego made on the youth who were searching for something they could not yet define was phenomenal. Ziggy Stardust was outrageous, irresistibly charismatic and had a great backstory – the last rock star from a dying planet descends on Earth to save our disaffected youth. Bowie knew how to create a concept and flesh it to a degree very few musicians could. As Gary Kemp of the band Spandau Ballet mentions in a BBC podcast titled Ziggy Changed My Life: “[Bowie's 1972 album] The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars would become a benchmark by which a generation would forever judge pop and youth culture.”
Ziggy only existed for a year before Bowie killed him. A bold move — but who else would be so daring? Bowie's next alter-ego would be Aladdin Sane (a lad insane, get it?) who on the album cover of the same name, was depicted with a lightning bolt across his face. An iconic look and symbol that Bowie will always own.
Bowie departed almost 14 months ago. He left us with a gift neatly packaged in black on his birthday, two days before he died. Black Star is Bowie's 31st studio album. I dare not say it's his final album. He — as we've come to know — was full of surprises. His 18-month battle with cancer wasn't known to the public and friends who knew him. Black Star was recorded in secret with long-time collaborator producer Tony Visconti. The six partial stars beneath the big star on the album cover spell out BOWIE. Four months after its release, fans were shocked to discover the black paper beneath the cut-out star reveals a star field when held up in light. Not surprisingly, Black Star won Best Recording Package at the 2017 Grammys. Bowie also won Best Alternative Rock Album; Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical; Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song.
Black Star was already on its way to Number 1 on the UK charts before Bowie's death. Once there, it remained at the top for three weeks. It reached Number 1 in 24 countries and has sold over 2 million copies to date. Bowie will continue to influence us and those who will come after us. What he's done with his 69 years is remarkable. To say there will be no one like him is predictable, but it's true. I've studied his life and career for over three decades and to this day I still can't get enough.
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