The night before David Bowie died, I was walking out of the advertising agency where I spent Half Block in Austin. The agency was on the intersection of 6th and Bowie Street. Maybe I was just being a tourist, but I took a picture of what was essentially nothing except the lit sign of a new high rise called The Bowie.
The next morning, I saw New York Times notification on my iPhone screen saying Bowie had died. I was startled. Two days earlier, on his 69th birthday, Bowie had released his latest and now last album, Blackstar. He was opening an off-Broadway play called “Lazarus.”
In all honesty, I wouldn’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan. I’ve never heard a song by him I didn’t like, but he wasn’t a direct part of my musical growth. Except, he always was.
To measure someone’s status as a legend in music is to measure how influential they’ve been to those who come after them. If that isn’t true about David Bowie, than I don’t know what to believe.
Two years ago, Colorado College held an event called “Shut Up and Stop Making Sense,” an LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads tribute performed by student bands. In some sense, it was a tribute to a band that played tribute to Bowie with every song. LCD Soundsystem, a monster of the indie movement of the last 10 years, overflows with Ziggy’s touch. Another band of the same movement is Arcade Fire who, again, are full of Bowie’s influence. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire have worked with Bowie, as well as each other.
Bowie’s influence isn’t even an obvious sound component, but how artists see their careers. David Bowie had a discography of over 20 albums, and he was a different person on each.
I’ve always believed that the secret to a great artist’s career is that they can use what’s worked previous albums, but be brave enough to introduce new ideas. If we look at artists like Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Grimes, and countless other acts, we see artists who don’t make the same thing twice.
Bowie made it okay to be an artist, but to never get painted into a corner. Your next album could sound nothing like the one that came before it. Artists are welcome to explore and must accept that it may not be what fans expect.
Overall, David Bowie made it okay to be weird. In the time since David Bowie, there has been a surplus of weirdness that continues to expand today. Bowie was weird and there was no doubt about that, but that’s what made him so influential to the artists that followed.
Miley Cyrus, Young Thug, Grimes, Flaming Lips, iLoveMakonnen, Of Montreal, the list goes on.
All these artists could be called outright bizarre, but that’s what makes them so interesting. It’s not a direct influence from Bowie. He simply opened the mainstream floodgates to let weirdos change culture, which ultimately changed what “normal” was defined as.
Whether or not you’re an avid listener of David Bowie, you can thank him for his artistic influence. The measure of a life can be how many lives they touched, and for Bowie, that was millions. David Bowie may have been your favorite musicians hero, just for one day.