Why You Should Listen To David Bowie

There are few artists that everyone knows, a fewer that people immediately recognize because they’re everywhere and in everything. Ask me who I believe is one of these names and I will confidently say: David Bowie. 

You likely know the icon for his tracks like “Heroes” and “Starman.” And whether you’re aware of it or not, Bowie is a character who has played a large part of the culture of both the twentieth and twenty-first century. His music has been featured in everything from the tunnel scene in The 

Perks to Being a Wallflower to a Chanel commercial advertising their fragrance. His voice has collaborated with groups like Queen for the rock anthem “Under Pressure” and other artists like Lou Reed; on his album “Transformer” Bowie is heard on backing vocals for the seventh track “Satellite of Love.” Then his face has become recognized on the big screen with his acting in Labyrinth in the United States and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in Japan, the star has also appeared in Twin Peaks, Zoolander, and surprisingly Spongebob Squarepants. There are countless other memorable moments to mention, making it impossible to not know his voice or face. His contributions to music and history are endless especially when you bring his June 1987 performance into focus.

This concert was held in front of the Reichberg building, which stood right next to the Berlin Wall, in West Berlin. It was part of his Glass Spider Tour, in the eighties it toured nine countries and had been called “the largest touring set ever.” Out of the European countries that he toured, Germany was one of them. Berlin was distinctly important to Bowie because he had lived there during the late seventies and in that time recorded three of his celebrated albums as the “Berlin Trilogy.” Living in the city, he had written his song “Heroes” about two lovers including lyrics like “I wish you could swim/ Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim,” which was about twenty two-year-old Henri Weise who drowned trying to cross the Spree River to get to the other side of the wall. It is “Heroes” that has been specifically credited for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall. People from both sides of the wall all gathered to listen to him sing. People who were there that night said that he was signing. Shortly after that performance, the US President at the time Ronald Reagan gave a speech, calling on the Soviet Union to “tear down this wall.” Shortly after, outrage about the wall was returned leading to its eventual collapse in 1989. There can be multiple readings of this history, like that Bowie had played no part in the eventual fall of the wall but I’m a believer that Bowie’s performance, especially “Heroes”, played a large role. Whether you believe it or not, when the British singer passed away in 2016 the German Foreign Ministry posted online “Good-bye David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall”, solidifying him into that piece of history. 

Already the obvious has been said about Bowie being a well known and successful artist in covering his career. There have been plenty of accounts showcasing his career and talent. Newspapers and magazines that I used to skim through, thinking there wasn’t anything special about David Bowie until I had listened to all of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars for the first time. It was after I had graduated high school and decided to do good on my promise to start listening to albums from all different artists, but after Ziggy Stardust I didn’t hold myself to it because I instead spent that summer deep diving into Bowie’s discography. There were the costumes, the albums, the music, yet I fell in love with his writing the most—which I think is the least covered aspect about him. And unlike the majority of coverage that he receives, here I want to cover him as a writer rather than just as an artist. 

In the 1960’s a majority of artists wrote from their perspectives. In the late sixties with the release of Space Oddity Bowie began his experimentation with different genres through his “characters” starting with Major Tom. “Can you hear me, Major Tom?/ Can you…/ Here am I floating in my tin can,/ Last glimpse of the world,/ Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing left to.” Is a song about feeling in the midst of change. 

In one interview with Joe Smith, (who I highly recommend exploring for yourself online on the Library of Congress’s website, or the animated “Blank on Blank” shorts), Bowie said: “But I find it extremely hard to write for me. So I found it quite easy to write for the artist I would create,” when he talked about how he has struggled to write songs for himself. In the same interview, he continues on to say that, “I did find it much easier having created Ziggy to then write for him.

Even though it was me doing it.” This is reflected in his work when you see how he mixes a projection of himself and his ideas into his characters. For example, in the mid seventies in his song “Station to Station” he says “We know Major Tom’s a junkie/ Strung out in heaven’s high/ Hitting an all-time low,” which most reference his own addictions. 

In my opinion, the songs that he is best known for don’t cover the extent of his talent but do demonstrate his abilities as an artist. Through his lyrics and characters I enjoy his explorations of expression, whether that is of sex, gender, class, etc. etc. The star even talks about taboo topics like death through “Rock-n-Roll Suicide” and effects of aging through “Golden Years.” Bowie is one of my favorite artists because of how he experimented with different genres. Some people have been quoted to call him a shapeshifter, others call him a musical chameleon, since throughout his musical genres his characters and the genres he has covered change unpredictably. With his music, he influenced artists like Joy Division, who were one of the pioneers of the post punk genre. In fact, in the band’s early days their band name was Warsaw, the name of a track off of Bowie’s 1997 album Low, which Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis romanticized. Another artist that comes to mind is Kurt Cobain, who had covered “The Man Who Sold the World” during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session. He influenced these artists to not box themselves into one genre, and to not be afraid of exploring different styles of music and instrumentations. Even if the fans may not like it.

The wild changes of genres and lyrics like “Just turn on with me and you’re not alone/ Just gimmie your hands ‘cause you’re wonderful/ I said, gimmie your hands ‘cause you’re wonderful.” It kept me coming back to his lyrics and I still do. The colorful imagery and language he uses really paints a vivid picture if you listen carefully. Another favorite of mine is, “A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest/ And a queer threw up at the sight of that.” My love for this artist solidified itself after I had seen a late night showing of Moonage Daydream. In that dark theater that only my dad and I occupied, my appreciation turned into wonder watching the bright colors and costumes play on the big screen of the empty theater. This is no idolization of the artist, but an appreciation for his writing and commitment to his craft.


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