“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” starts David Bowie in his final words to a world that was robbed of one of its brightest beacons of creativity just this week.
News of his death was the headline that stunned the globe on the morning of Monday January 11th, 2016 and it wasn’t long before the voices of the millions poured out to lament the void left behind.
And it’s hard to keep from adding my own to them.
Growing up, it was the sound of Bowie’s undecipherable lyrics and out of nowhere chord changes that decorated my childhood and family home. To me, Bowie had a mystique that – young as I was at the time – left me, in the majority confounded, but moreover exhilarated by the music produced from it.
It wasn’t until in later years that I began to appreciate that the ‘can’t put my finger on it’ feeling I would get whenever my dad played the 1971 album Hunky Dory or ‘72’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (Five Years remains one of my all-time favourites) emerged entirely from the undeniable artistry this iconic man/woman/androgynous entity from the future commanded.
In 1973, Bowie was referred to as nothing more than a ‘flash in the pan’ popstar by New Statesman journalist Martin Amis. It’s a laughable notion now.
Bowie was so much more than a popstar. He was a relentless innovator who through his own constant reinvention, played a hand in breaking down social barriers, even before society fully understood them itself.
Would the topic of gender be so at the forefront of today had Bowie not first changed all of the rules as his gender maverick persona Ziggy Stardust? Perhaps so, perhaps another would have stepped up to make the same statement, eventually. But it was Bowie who did so first, over 40 years ago.
Whether as Davy Jones, Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, Aladdin Slane or The Thin White Duke, it was always with perpetual creativity that the singer helped unlock the doors for those with the same power today, to walk through and continue to fly the flags Bowie did in his many incarnations for all his years.
Those doors remain open today, for the next maverick to step through, question the norm and invent a new future. Maybe it’s a mantle that could be picked up within the toy industry as you the inventors continue to challenge social constructs? Why not? If Bowie – once a gangly red-headed youth from South London – taught us anything, it’s that genius can be found in the most unlikely places.
Across the generations that came before and after him, he maintained a hold as a genius in marketing himself as the artist that rings the jarring truths of the wider society as well as the voice to which every one of us can relate and share adoration for on an individual and intimate level.
It’s just one of the reasons why I believe that the world has flocked to raise its voice and a glass in its regret at its loss, our loss.
An artist to the very end, his every song and act became a painting in which to find meaning, including his ten year hiatus before the launch of The Next Day in 2013 and then in 2016, when the man we all assumed would live forever, was at last, touched by mortality.
The single Lazarus (in which he offers the words “Look up here, I’m in heaven”) and indeed his 28th and final album Blackstar, we understand now to be his last salute after an 18 month battle with cancer.
And it was in his final act on earth that the man who fell to it some 40 years earlier managed to pull off his greatest trick. He mastered death and marketed it to a world he helped mould, as his last work of art.
Bowie’s legacy will live forever and will continue to inspire the world to innovate always. He has already made sure of it.
Thank you David Bowie, for the Golden Years you gave and the Changes you brought us. Those are some big, inspiring shoes you’ve left to fill, and compared to that move, for now let’s just say that we’re all Absolute Beginners.