By Lily Roth
It’s been almost four years since the death of David Bowie, a hero whose manifestations still crowd my life. His persona — tied to eternity — seemed beholden to another world, one above the lowly idea of mortality. But death once again proved itself the great equalizer, and we find ourselves in a world where David Bowie no longer exists. His absence continues to haunt the musical, social, and political scene of modern art.
Bowie’s dedication to societal advancement was essential during the ’80s and ’90s, and spurred discussions of race, sexuality, and gender expression. Almost four years after his death, I still find myself waiting for his voice to ignite important dialogues on modern day politics and discussions of pop culture development.
Bowie once said, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring,” and it certainly wasn’t.
His lifelong career of 47 years and his fresh musical styles redefined today’s pop music landscape by creating music for a variety of genres. His album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” was vital in creating what we now call glam rock, and he furthered the folk singer-songwriter realm with “Space Oddity” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” He even impacted R&B by producing “Young Americans and Fame.”
His aesthetic was undeniably weird, but his unique style and new ideas managed to keep his career relevant in the music industry. In the entirety of his career, he released 27 studio albums, nine live albums, 49 compilation albums, six extended plays, 121 singles, including five UK No. 1 singles, and three soundtracks. Bowie also made 14 video albums and 59 music videos.
His strong presence in the music scene can be compared to his equally strong presence in the visual world. By redefining social standards and advocating for universal acceptance of androgyny, Bowie pushed the boundaries of androgynous fashion into mainstream media. He performed in blouses, dresses, heels, and tight leather jumpsuits with neon makeup and glitter.
Bowie also heavily influenced the recognition of fluid sexuality by publicly encouraging the dismissal of identity labels and suggesting that fluid sexuality is a piece of human nature. This advocacy influenced the media by converting the typical image of a pop star to one without definition, and by engaging with public platforms, Bowie was able to share his criticism of the music industry. He addressed the lack of diversity in radio shows, television programs, and music labels, and challenged networks to integrate diversity into the industry.
While Bowie was one of the most influential and unabashed voices in the realm of pop culture during the sexual revolution, it’s important to acknowledge that his words couldn’t have held the platform they did without the activism and voices of the disenfranchised trans women of color, drag queens, and gay individuals who originally changed the discourse surrounding sexuality and identity.
To me, Bowie is the last true Renaissance man to grace the stage of artistic expression. As a political activist, a deeply rooted songwriter, and a fashion icon, Bowie left his footprint behind for emerging artists to learn from and follow. He refused to let anything but his own inspirations sway him. He dedicated himself to making the music industry a groundbreaking business and a place of equality regarding race, sex, and gender.
“I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work,” Bowie said in a 2002 interview with GQ. “I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture that I was living in. It just seemed like a challenge to move it a little bit towards the way I thought it might be interesting to go.”
Almost four years since his death, I continue to thank him and acknowledge what he left behind. The world of music, arts, and equality is unaccountably lesser for his departure.
“It feels like we lost something elemental,” musician Carrie Brownstein wrote of Bowie’s death, “as if an entire color is gone.”