Just a couple of weeks ago the world lost David Bowie to cancer. When that happened, we didn’t just lose a musician, we lost a storyteller, an icon of fashion and future, an artist who refused and celebrated his ability to never fit into a category. Simply said, he was an icon, and one who gave precious few interviews over the many years. Bowie on Bowie brings many of the ones he did give together into a timeline so we can watch the continuous transitions and evolutions of Bowie, from his early folkish beginnings, through the character-based phases of Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, and culminating in the Thin White Duke, the wizened rock star who lived through it all.
Following Bowie’s career is like witnessing the movement of the entire music industry, except that it was always a few steps behind him. He would jump and shift to new styles often, sometimes from one album to the next, and it wasn’t a ploy to become more palatable to different audiences. He never really cared much what people thought of him, as long as he found himself interesting. That stand-offish attitude towards the public came off him as confidence, which mesmerized us for decades.
Early on in the collection of interviews we see where he infamously told the press that he liked boys and girls equally when it came to his sexuality. Parents and stately society reacted with horror and revulsion and initially the music-buying youth did as well. However, soon enough the younger generation realized being his fan was yet another way to show their independence and give a subtle jab to the adults all around them. As for Bowie himself, he continually deftly avoided answering the question directly either way by saying he made the claim purely for the reaction, yet in his life he admits to being attracted to men at various times.
That was part of his mystery and his charm. He could never be pinned down. He was a puzzle of something so beautiful and mystical that you had to see it finished, but he never gave you all the pieces. Many of the reporters and journalists who interviewed him referred to him as disarmingly charming. One commented, “He is so entertainingly polite that you feel he could charm the wings off an angel.”
As his image and style shifted throughout the decades, he avoided being pigeonholed. No one could ever predict where he would go next, whether it was another album that sounded entirely different, or a whole new medium, like painting or appearing in cult films, including “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
Bowie commented on this quality of his personality by saying this,
“Somebody once said — who was it? It’s terribly important–that Harry Langdon, the silent comedian, cannot be taken on his own; you have to put him alongside that which went on around him, like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd and Chaplin. He can only be seen by reference, and somebody said that about me, which is probably very true. I kind of quite like that, actually, that you can’t take me on my own. You can only use me as a form of reference!”
One of his most famous reference points was the creation and destruction of the rock n’ roll alien named Ziggy Stardust. The extravagant extraterrestrial captured the fans so completely, but it nearly captured Bowie himself as well. He reflected back on those years with a sense of concern and confusion.
“To this day I’m not really sure if I was playing Ziggy or if Ziggy was exaggerated aspects of my own personality,” Bowie says. “A fair amount of psychological baggage was undoubtedly coming out through the character…And when the drugs came along, that really added to the brew to the point that it was inescapable that I was committing huge psychological damage to myself.”
Yet he survived and went on to create more music, more art and more influence on the world around him. In the same way as another legendary musician, Warren Zevon, Bowie knew for quite a while before he passed about his disease, but instead of just wasting away both artists embarked on one last album and poured themselves into it. Zevon’s last album, The Wind, went on to win two Grammy awards, the only of his life, and Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, raced up to the top of the Billboard music charts, which he hadn’t accomplished in decades.
Bowie on Bowie is an incredible glimpse into the man who unarguably made the world not only more interesting and more enjoyable, but more inspirational. His talent will live on for generations, sparking the fascination and wonder of fans new and old.