As a punk rocker in 1980s, I viewed David Bowie as one of my three musical godfathers along side his fellow protopunks Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. While Iggy, with his bandmates the Stooges, was busy heralding the sonic call to arms, and Reed, with his naturalistic and honest storytelling, was busy cataloging the grittiness of New York City street life, Bowie was on a different mission. His music was distinctly more personal in tone with the implicit message that is was OK to be weird, OK to be different and OK to be who you are. And while Iggy’s music was infused with a combative swagger, and Reed’s with an urban survival toughness, Bowie’s was imbued with a compassion for the individual. And if I were to attempt the impossible and choose just one song, I would say that the one song of Bowie’s that most represents this ethos is one of his more well known ones, 1971’s “Changes”.
The key lines of this composition, penned by Bowie himself, center around the older generation clashing with the younger generation over the whole notion of change itself as it proclaims :
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strange)
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
With this song, Bowie defiantly shouts back to the would be oppressors that it is basic to human nature to want to change things for the better and how dare they try to stop it. Over and over again , in his vast repertoire of songs, much like Walt Whitman did a century earlier with his poems, Bowie champions the individual over society. And that, more than anything, I believe, is his lasting legacy.
To be sure, it is very telling about his compassion for his listeners that when asked, in 2002, about the nature of being an artist, Bowie responded :
I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.
And with that, I think, we touch on the basis for a lot of our collective grief this past week – the realization that this great artist and contributor to our culture named David Bowie is now physically gone from our midst forever. RIP David RIP, we love you and miss you already.
Post Script : Among the countless tributes and stories about David Bowie since his death,here are a couple of my favorites. The first is from alternative Rock legend Henry Rollins and is from his LA Weekly music column :BOWIE’S BLACKSTAR IS ON THE LEVEL OF LOW AND HEROES . And the second one, which actually cheats a little bit because it really is a compilation of tributes, can be found at Vulture.com : These Are the Must-Read David Bowie Tributes By Annie Zaleski .