I’ve struggled to write a New Year’s Resolution post for the past two weeks. I guess the resolution about not procrastinating in 2016 is not going to happen. Lately, my thoughts have turned to David Bowie after his passing on Jan. 10.
My introduction to Bowie’s music came as a result of one of those foolish teen-age arguments. In my suburban Connecticut neighborhood, the two main topics of conversation among my circle of friends were sports and music. We could argue for hours about which team was better–the Red Sox or the Yankees–or which player was a clutch hitter and which one was not. It was all pretty juvenile, but we enjoyed the give-and-take.
There were similar discussions regarding music. We didn’t argue much about the Beatles or the Rolling Stones as we liked both bands, though we were more of a Beatles neighborhood. But, in the early 70s, I engaged in a running battle with a friend of mine about two artists: Elton John and David Bowie. I took up the cause for Elton. As a frustrated piano player myself, I found Elton’s music resonated with me. My friend scoffed at me. “David Bowie is way better,” he would say. Tired of listening to him, I dared him to prove it. He let me borrow two Bowie albums: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and “Hunky Dory.” I was blown away. I became a huge Bowie fan. I realized the argument about the relative merits of Elton John and David Bowie was pointless. Each artist was brilliant in his own way.
During his most prolific period from 1969 through 1985, Bowie recorded 14 albums, an output unheard of today. What was more fantastic than his productivity was his creative curiosity. He was one of the rare artists who moved seamlessly from genre to genre. He could do glam rock, blue-eyed soul, rock and roll, kraut werk, and even turn out a scintillating pop song like “Modern Love.” His lyrics had an inscrutable, thought-provoking quality. I could cite many examples, but the one that always stuck with me was the line at the end of the song “Young Americans.” After listing a cynical litany of complaints and questions, he wails his true desire: “Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?”
The great lesson of Bowie’s musical legacy for me as a writer is to push boundaries. Try new things. Test the limits of creativity. Be true to your art. Strive for greatness. Rest in peace, David Bowie. Thank you for the rich and diverse music you have left behind.