David Bowie

Naomi Shimunov, Reporter

With the death of David Bowie last month, it has come to my attention that although many of us are familiar with David Bowie’s hits, we aren’t aware of the cultural impact he has had on society and the arts.

David Bowie was a man of many achievements; he was a professional mime, Broadway actor, film star, musician, and he was even the spokesperson for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men in 1964. The London born rocker had his first big hit in 1969 with “Space Oddity” a song about an astronaut, Major Tom, who gets stranded in space; it was heavily influenced by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. A video of astronaut Chris Hadfield performing “Space Oddity” in space aboard the International Space Station (which can be viewed on YouTube) became a successful cover. In its day, “Space Oddity” was so popular that Elton John wanted to replicate its success and that’s why “Rocket Man” exists today.

I’d argue that Bowie’s true status of cult icon originated with his 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World. The album cover featured wearing a dress. I also believe that this album cover began his interest in an androgynous appearance. Bowie’s first financially successful album came with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars in 1972. The album tells the story of an alien who is trying to give humanity hope in its last five years. David Bowie brought Ziggy Stardust to life, adopting him as an alter ego and playing the role on stage. Ziggy Stardust challenged current notions of ‘acceptable’ sexuality, fashion, and attitude. He also heavily popularized glam rock and the androgynous style that came with it.

In the later 70s Bowie created a new alter ego, The Thin White Duke. The Thin White Duke seemingly, dressed with less flash than Zigg.  Bowie wore cabaret styled clothing, and played songs that fell more into the soul genre of music. One of the most memorable Thin White Duke era albums is Station to Station. The album’s cover was a still shot from a 1976 film starring David Bowie called The Man Who Fell To Earth, the movie was received well… here’s an opinion given by renown movie critic Roger Ebert that just about sums it up, “It’s slow going at times, and the plot isn’t worthy of the performances. Too many shots of limousines and an unexplained big truck. Too many unfocused conversations in offices. I gave it 2.5 stars in 1976. That was about right. But I’m nudging it up to three stars for the 2011 re-release. Star ratings are meaningless, anyway, so consider this just a quiet protest vote against the way projects this ambitious are no longer possible in the mainstream movie industry.” The reason I’m bringing this movie up is because you can really get a feel of The Thin White Duke by watching Bowie’s amazing performance.

In the 80s Bowie released a few intermittent albums, a few pop hits such as “Let’s Dance.” He would collaborate with Queen and together they made “Under Pressure” which was performed at Live Aid (a concert based event organized to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia), he also collaborated with Mick Jagger during Live Aid to make what is ultimately my favorite music video of all time (and yes, I am one of the few people that actually enjoys watching this video) it was featured on Family Guy, it’s David Bowie and Mick Jagger performing a cover of “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas! Ok, so why do I love this arguably mess of a music video while it makes everyone else I’ve spoken to depressed? It’s two rock gods having fun! I don’t care what their wearing, and if you’d ask me I’d say they look dashing. Aside from all that, the video has amazing facts to go with it- it was recorded during a gap between Mick and David’s schedule, and it was filmed at an abandoned dock because they had zero budget.

In the 90’s Bowie collaborated with Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Raznor on a few songs for his alternative rock album Earthling. Just this year Bowie released his last album, Black Star. Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to listen to it from beginning to end, but the parts I have heard sound pretty good.

Honestly, there’s so much to say I could have written an over hundred page essay on the man! His lyrics and his music were constantly revolutionary. I also recommend checking out the albums Hunky Dory and Alddin Sane, which are also both critically acclaimed and influential albums.