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"We Can Be Heroes": Remembering David Bowie

David Bowie has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 69 years old. 

He was a giant. 

His music was not what we would necessarily classify as Americana, despite his sweeping influence on so many forms of truly American music. It would be impossible to imagine modern rock and roll without his influence, for sure. But also, this morning as I opened my eyes to Twitter, I saw notes from bluegrass artists like Sean Watkins and singer-songwriters like Jason Isbell, extolling the virtues of a career like Bowie's. 

That career, to which Isbell refers, spanned generations. It included everything from rock and roll to mainstream pop, dance music to biting social commentary. 

I came to David Bowie, as many in my generation did, through his appearance in the weirdo puppet-fueled adventure film The Labyrinth. His Tina Turner hairdo, his spandex pants and face paint, the way he so effortlessly fit into a world of fantasy and puppetry as the king of the goblins, were all so bizarre and entrancing to me. David Bowie wasn't playing a character; he was being an artist.

As I slowly and surely came to explore his music in the years which followed, through the glam and the guitars and the keyboards and the fashion, through the courage and the protest and the daring to be authentically himself, I came to understand that what made Bowie's character so unforgettable -- what made such an indelible impression on a new generation of music fans -- was that he embodied whatever he dared to do. And he dared to do it all. 

For David Bowie, music and art were not a thing he presented to us; it was who he was. 

Here in the roots music world, we celebrate music that is not made with profit as the primary objective. We embrace the subcorporate, the authentic and raw, the honest and unbridled, the stuff that knows where it's come from and where it may go. We applaud artists who prize the story, the song, the expression, over anything else that may seek to bastardize it. We seek courageous stories from songwriters whose eyes see through all the chaos of the things in which we, in our daily lives, become mired. 

David Bowie not only did those things, he owned them. Despite the costumes and the makeup, the high heels and stage show, the dapper tailored suits and often otherworldly sounds behind his voice, there was no hiding in his music. Somehow it didn't seem that he was putting on a show. Instead, he was letting us see through his eyes. He dared to explore, and invited us to come along. 

"Look," he seemed to demand, "at who and what we are, at what we might do, at how far we can take this."

May he rest in peace.

Great eulogy Kim...I still remember playing "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" the first time...I was listening to a lot of stuff like Yes, Mahavishnu Orchestra and ELP at the time, sort of revelling in virtuosity for virtuosity's sake...Mick Ronson's guitar work and those songs really shifted my perspective...got me back on the right track...he did it all...I didn't like all that he did, but I admired him for the nerve of it...RIP.

Thank you Kim. One of the golden highlights of my teenage years was the experience of David Bowie. From Space Oddity through Young Americans, he defined much of my experience through music and art. Thank you for your fine tribute.

 As was often the case with Bowie, expect the unexpected.

Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead guitar. 

 

Yep...some good guitar licks on that one...

I just heard a great interview with Bowie on "Fresh Air" from 2002. When host Terry Gross asks Bowie what music he listened to as a teen ager, he stopped. "I listened to everything," he said, "it would be easier to tell you the one thing I didn't listen to: country & western." Though he undoubtedly influenced a lot of alt country artists (Old 97s version of "Five Years"), throughout all of his musical incarnations he never did a "country album" (a la Don Henley). Thankful for that! 

I think Bowie was just being coy.  How else would you, could you, explain "Black Country Rock?"

 

Point well taken Hal...forgot about that one...I was still in high school...didn't get into Bowie till Ziggy...I listened to the older ones later...that's off of Man Who Sold the World I think...

I came of age in the mid-70s and early-80s, and, so, Bowie made many appearances, although always is some new form.  Sorry that he has passed, but a great article/tribute.  Nice to see the tributes of other artists too.  

Also, didn't know that Old 97s did a cover of "Five Years", but I just listened to it.  (Liked Arcade Fire's performance of it with Bowie himself.)  That's why I like ND.  

Thanks, Kim, for your moving and personal tribute. Bowie was certainly an explorer. He was also, as I see it, a master of persona. I sort of think of Bowie as the first person to fully utilize image and the media as extensions of and compliments to artistic expression (some would give Dylan that credit, but I think Bowie took the possibilities way further).  He was a consummate performer and artist—and at least in his early and mid-career years, sans MTV and sans internet! Great piece.