My introduction to David Bowie’s music was rather unconventional. I was in middle school and had recently started listening to Nirvana. Like many Nirvana fans, I was drawn not only to the rawness of Kurt Cobain’s voice, but also the pure emotion that you could feel in the band’s music. Soon after I started listening to Nirvana, I came across their MTV Unplugged in New York album. Cobain is at his purest on that album and the one song that really stuck out to me was “The Man Who Sold the World.” Although the lyrics seemed like gibberish to me, the song was undeniably beautiful and I was instantly hooked.
At the end of the song, Cobain references that it was a Bowie song, so I figured that I should listen to that original version. Once again, I was blown away. Though my preferences in music have changed many times since middle school, I have always had Bowie’s songs on my “go-to” playlist.
David Robert Jones—better known as David Bowie—passed away on Jan. 10 after an 18-month battle with cancer. Just two days prior, on his 69th birthday, Blackstar—Bowie’s staggering 25th studio album—was released.
In typical Bowie fashion, the album was very concept-driven. With Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly among its influences, Blackstar was a jazzy, dark album that garnered critical praise with its release.
After Bowie’s death, Blackstar gained a deeper meaning. Lyrical references to death and what comes with it are scattered throughout the songs. Death is a common motif in music, but few artists come close to what Bowie achieved with this album.
Blackstar not only explores the notion of death, but tackles it head on. This gives the album a feeling reminiscent of “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, a song he recorded as he was dying. It speaks volumes to Bowie’s love for music that he would spend the last 18 months of his life recording this album.
Bowie was a perfectionist with his music. In a 1993 interview with Bryant Gumbel, he summed up his work ethic: “If I don’t put my all into something that I’m writing, I inevitably feel regrets about it.” This attitude and his view of music as more than just a career allowed Bowie to thrive. Twenty-five studio albums is an impressive feat, but what makes that even more impressive is the sheer amount of good music on each of his albums. He never became stale or boring.
While his songs alone are enough to make Bowie a music legend, he was much more than that. Bowie was famous for his chameleon nature and the flamboyant way he often dressed and acted. He was always himself through and through and never changed to appeal to people.
Bowie illustrated to generations of people that it is acceptable to be your authentic self. His influence in this regard can be observed in musicians like Madonna and Lady Gaga, whose personas are as integral to their music as it was for Bowie.
Bowie’s influence can be seen across the musical spectrum, but to me, the most important of his influences lives within the music of Cobain. Through Cobain’s heartfelt cover of “The Man Who Sold the World,” I was able to find Bowie and all the beautiful music he created. The best part about music is that it allows the artist to live on forever through it.
Thankfully, Bowie left us with an incredible catalog of songs to remind us of his diverse creativity and is sure to inspire generations to come.