The Death of Major Tom: The Unending Legacy of David Bowie
In the eighth grade, my friend introduced me to Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” To him, the song was purely a joke; in the beginning, it sounded like Freddie Mercury was singing the name of our then English teacher. We listened to the intro a few times and had some laughs, but when I returned home—out of my raging curiosity—I gave the song a full and honest listen. It touched me in an unbelievable way, and as I listened to it again and again, I came to the conclusion that it was perfect, both musically and thematically. My favorite aspect, though, without competition, was David Bowie’s singing; not only did his voice beautifully compliment Mercury’s, but his solo verses are the highlights of the song. I listened to that song on repeat for months, always getting chills when Bowie’s vocals take the song to its climax.
I spent the summer before my freshman year of high school religiously listening to David Bowie’s discography. There was something about his style, both musically and physically, that kept me constantly thinking about him, but I could not put my finger on it; he was wholly unique and seemed to always be relevant to the times regardless of the era in which he was playing.
His most recent album, Blackstar, was released on January 8, 2016, just two days before his death. After an 18-month-long battle with liver cancer, David Bowie peacefully passed away yesterday on January 10. The entire music world was and still is in incredibly deep shock, still grieving over the death of Motörhead’s front-man Lemmy Kilmister just two weeks earlier.
I’ve lived on this earth for long enough to experience the death of numerous famous cultural and musical figures, but none of whom I felt a deeply intimate and personal connection with, that is, until the death of Bowie. It simply wasn’t something I had even considered as a possibility—he’s been consistently releasing albums since his debut, David Bowie, in 1967, and showed few signs of slowing down. It’s strange how idols take on this assumed immortality in your mind, and it’s even stranger how someone whom you didn’t know personally can die and leave such a profound impact on you.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to listen to Blackstar until this morning, after I had heard the news.
And my initial impression was that it absolutely blew me away.
This was definitely one of his most experimental and ambitious works since his avant-garde works of the 70’s. The opening tracks, “Blackstar” and “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” were reminiscent of the classic Bowie sound lathered with a new, jazzy sound to it (imagine my excitement, being a jazz enthusiast myself). And then “Lazarus” came on, and the opening line sent chills down my spine.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
And then it hit me. This album wasn’t meant to be listened to while Bowie was still alive. Rather, it functions as quasi-autobiographical epitaph, to be listened to by grieving fans all around the world as a final message to the world. Not only that, but it also functions as a stunningly perfect conclusion to one of the most successful musical careers of the 20th century, one which always seemed to be the backbone of pop for his 40+ year reign.
David Bowie will forever be remembered as one of the greatest post-modern musicians because he was more than simply a man; he represented the pinnacle of self-expression through music and art. As cliché as it sounds, he reminded the world of the importance of simply being yourself, and trust me, if there was ever a man who was more in-tune with himself than any other man, it was David Bowie. He reminded the world that regardless of how far away you stand from the status quo, regardless of how “weird” or abnormal you are, you are wholly unique in your identity and that that in itself is incredible. Regardless of how I feel, David Bowie was the only musician whose creation I could truly relate to, and I know that millions of others feel the same way—this is why, even decades after the songs’ releases, people still find themselves drawn to Bowie’s fictional characters like Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, and Major Tom. In him, everyone is able to find something they identify with.
Undoubtedly, I will spend the next few weeks binging on Bowie’s music, reminiscing on the great memories I’ve had with him. And undoubtedly as well, his words in “Under Pressure” will be ringing in my head during every song, reminding me that this is our last dance.
This is our last dance. image source: Duffy and Celia Philo