I was driving my son to school this morning. He's in middle school, an age when you are open to discovery of things that you may end up appreciating your whole life. A short while earlier, he'd heard me raving almost incoherently about the surprise I received upon waking today, which was that a new David Bowie album had been announced, the first in ten years, and that a new single and video had been released.
He asked me about it, and I tried to explain David Bowie in the 30 seconds I had before dropping him off. Here's what I came up with:
"You know how some people occasionally do things or say things or look a certain way or whatever, and you recognize that the person is cool? Well, when David Bowie does something, it's automatically cool. In fact, the definition of cool is whatever David Bowie happens to be doing at any given moment."
Yeah, that seems about right. I mean, how else are you going to explain Bowie? It's easier to explain the wind, or a hummingbird.
Ziggy to Zak
I really can't explain how influential Bowie has been on my music. You don't hear it all the time when you listen to my stuff, if ever. But I will say that he's there, somewhere, in nearly everything I write.
It's actually a test of maturity and higher-level thinking, I believe, to appreciate Bowie. I'm not talking about a song or two that makes you hum along. I mean the entire oeuvre that comprises the man's work as a whole. When I was ten years old in 1979, I was up late one night while staying at a friend's house, watching a pre-MTV music video show (perhaps it was "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" or the like), and a video came on. It was the debut of the song "DJ" from the then-new album Lodger, and I didn't get it. I really thought it was weird. I was ten.
Well, some music isn't for ten year olds. Most music is, but some isn't. Despite my evaluation of weirdness at the time, I still was intrigued. It certainly didn't sound like AC/DC or Aerosmith. I wasn't even sure it was rock (which I knew I liked as a genre). As I got a little older into my early teens, I began that magical process of going back through time, listening to Bowie's early stuff and all the way through his mid-70s work. And then, Let's Dance came out and I was miffed that suddenly everyone liked this artist who I'd assumed I had discovered.
Bowie and My New Band
When I was trying to articulate what my new band They Stole My Crayon should be all about, it was difficult, because I really wanted the songs to be different from what I'd written before. I wanted them to be experimental. I wanted them to sometimes make people uncomfortable. I wanted them to be fearlessly innovative. I wanted spaciousness intertwined with intimacy, coldness and warmth, light and shadow. I wanted it to be difficult for people to describe what kind of music it was.
In short, I wanted it to be Bowie, or to evoke the ideas that his music does, to some degree.
So, I find it tremendously encouraging and inspiring to wake up today and suddenly have new Bowie to listen to multiple times (thrice while I wrote this post). Some of my favorite artists, despite being old, are not only continuing to put out new material, but it's damn good stuff, and none of them seem to be trying to cash in toward the end of their careers and lives. Bowie, for one, not only remains relevant; he defines relevancy for everyone else.
That's what good art will do. And David Bowie is an artist... one of the only ones.