Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Influence of an Icon


I happened to be lying in the bath early last Monday when I learned of David Bowie's death. The CD I'd put on before I got into the water was his 2014 compilation 'Nothing Has Changed' and the track that was playing while I was reading the news on my mobile phone was his 1973 hit single 'Drive-In Saturday'. Weird, huh?

Well, if the truth be told, it's not an uncanny coincidence at all. The fact is that Bowie's music is playing as often as not while I'm pottering around my home, whether it's first thing in the morning, last thing at night or any time in-between. Like millions of other music lovers, I've been a David Bowie fan since my school days. Indeed, if memory serves, his 1976 album 'Changesonebowie' was either the second or third LP I ever bought.

Following the confirmation of his passing, the first artist I saw paying tribute to Bowie on social media was Nick Oliveri. The second was Madonna. To me, that spoke volumes about the scope of the man's influence. After all, the lunatic bassist who currently plays with alternative rock band Mondo Generator and the multifaceted global megastar are about as far apart on the musical spectrum as it's possible to be and yet both were clearly moved by the death of the iconic performer.

David Bowie’s wide appeal is easy to understand. During a phenomenal career spanning more than five decades, he not only embraced numerous musical and visual styles but he also collaborated with artists as diverse as Lulu and Iggy Pop, Luther Vandross and Lou Reed, Bing Crosby and Puff Daddy, and the Pet Shop Boys and Nine Inch Nails. Meanwhile, his songs were covered by a vast array of acts ranging from Bauhaus to Barbara Streisand, Culture Club to Nirvana, Mott the Hoople to Marilyn Manson and Duran Duran to Dinosaur Jr.
  
The scale of Bowie's influence on music, fashion and popular culture since he rose to prominence in the early-Seventies is unparalleled and, in my opinion, he remains as relevant today as he was during his seminal Ziggy Stardust and Berlin periods.


For me, the most exciting new band to have emerged in recent years is Wolf Alice. When asked to name their musical influences, the young Londoners have mentioned David Bowie on more than one occasion. Wolf Alice's debut album was released in June and went straight into the chart at number two. It was kept off the top by Florence and the Machine, whose 29 year-old vocalist Florence Welch told the press this week that Bowie has been a huge influence throughout her life.

My favourite release of 2015 was Beth Jeans Houghton's brilliant album 'Welcome Back To Milk'. The talented 25 year-old, who'd previously enjoyed critical success while producing a brand of quirky, psychedelic folk music, apparently experienced a creative epiphany while visiting the 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at London’s V&A Museum. She promptly ditched the band she had been working with, renamed herself Du Blonde, altered her musical style dramatically and recorded what I believe to be one of the most impressive records of the last decade.

The above are examples of precisely why David Bowie remains such an important figure as far as I'm concerned. It's not just because I love a large percentage of the music he created, but also because he was and still is a significant influence on so many other artists that I rate highly - acts such as the Birthday Party, Blondie, Blur, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Hugh Cornwell, the Cure, the Dandy Warhols, Electric Six, the Horrors, Joy Division, Morrissey, Placebo, Queens of the Stone Age, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Smiths, Suede, the Talking Heads and the Tubes.

It seems that almost every musical performer I've ever admired has owed some kind of a debt to David Bowie. In most cases, the artists concerned were inspired by his music, although some were merely attracted by his appearance. A few have attempted to replicate his impressive stage craft, while others have been influenced by his ability to frequently reinvent himself. In a couple of instances, bands that I've liked were publicly championed by the man himself. Other artists have simply revealed themselves to be fans like me. But whatever the connection, pretty much everything in my record collection eventually leads back to Bowie in one way or another.
     
During the last ten months, I've been fortunate enough to see the superb 'David Bowie Is' exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris and enjoy an intimate, three-hour tour of the Hansa Studios in Berlin, where Bowie mixed 'Low', wrote and recorded 'Heroes' and co-wrote and produced the Iggy Pop albums 'The Idiot' and 'Lust For Life'. Suffice to say that both experiences will remain with me for the rest of my days.

Words like 'genius' and 'legend' are bandied around way too easily in this day and age and most of the people who get described as such are absolutely nothing of the sort, but David Bowie is an exception. He genuinely was a pop idol in every sense. The Starman from Brixton was a bona fide one-off. He was an innovator, a trendsetter and a true cultural icon. Bowie's death will be mourned by millions, but his extraordinary talent was such that his influence will be felt by many generations to come.

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