OED defines the icon as “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.” Icon is bandied about rather casually these days, especially in the realm of entertainment. However, it is hard to argue that the word does not apply to David Bowie. Born David Robert Jones, on January 8, 1947, his career as an artist spanned singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter, and actor – all of which he excelled at with an almost effortless grace.
As a child of the 70’s, his Ziggy Stardust persona made not just a strong musical impression, but a visual impression, creating a template of what many of the androgyne glam rockers of the day wanted to be and could never quite attain. Some would have been content to rest on the laurels of the level of success he had in that decade. Not Bowie. He transformed his image and music, often radically, with each passing album. The dirty glam rock sound of 1972’s “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” could not be more different than the 1983’s pop-ish “Let’s Dance”, his early 90’s hard rock project with guitarist Reeve Gabrels “Tin Machine” or the restrained techo elegance of 2002’s “Heathen”. His 25th studio album, “Blackstar” was just released this month to critical acclaim. It is easy to think of him only as a singer, but he played guitar, keyboards, harmonica, saxophone, stylophone, viola, cello, koto, thumb piano, drums, and percussion.
Bowie’s acting career was just as diverse as his musical career. From the alien outsider Thomas Jerome Newton in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, the vampire with an unexpected life expectancy John Blaylock in “The Hunger” to the wildly popular cult film figure Jared the Goblin King in “Labyrinth”, he could play the fantastical as well as characters grounded in history such as Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, Andy Warhol in “Basquiat” and Nikola Tesla in “The Prestige”. He may have never won an Oscar for Best Actor, but he was as good as any and better than most. Lest we forget, his contribution to cinema was not just in front of the camera. David Bowie has had a song featured in no less than 425 films and television shows to date.
Remember his contributions to our art and culture with admiration or disdain, remembered he will be nonetheless.
He is survived by his wife Iman, their daughter Alexandria Zahra Jones, and his son filmmaker Duncan Jones.
Ziggy played guitar . . .
Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie, and thank you for all you’ve given us over the years.