Ziggy Stardust. Major Tom. Aladdin Sane.
David Bowie’s stage personas were numerous – as were the musical styles with which he experimented. So what was the influence of this chameleon-like star?
David Robert Jones started off as an ordinary boy from Brixton; little did he know that his innovative creations would span over five decades, sell an estimated 140 million records worldwide, and leave an enduring legacy for generations to come. When he died there was a day of mourning across the globe.
As a Bowie fan I, along with the rest of the world, was heartbroken when I heard the news of his death, but what better way to celebrate his life than to write about 5 different ways I believe Bowie changed the world:
5. THE INTERNET
David Bowie is well known for being ahead of his time. In a famous interview with a sceptical Jeremy Paxman in 1999, he predicted how important the internet was going to be and how it would shape the future of the world – describing its implications as “unimaginable.” It is impossible to say whether his belief is what sparked others to rely on the internet more, but it is clear that Bowie embraced change and new ideas.
Bowie’s transformations into different characters created massive cultural shifts. One of his most famous was Ziggy Stardust: a sexually ambiguous figure, who was desirable to both men and women. The media’s fascination with Bowie’s sexuality is arguably what made him so controversial as an artist. He challenged the public’s narrow perceptions of gender and was the catalyst for his fans to feel confident in their own sexuality.
In Vogue’s fashion file he was labelled fashion’s “King of Self Invention.” Although his music was intriguing in itself, when it was paired with his Aladdin Sane lightning flash it became significantly more eye catching. He influenced mainstream fashion, such as his experimentation with costumes of Japanese heritage. His fans wanted to enjoy both his music and his style, partly because his odd and strange looks challenged the prevailing boring mainstream style. The public of the 70s loved dressing as he did, having the same haircut, and even his multi-coloured make-up.
Whatever genre of music you like to listen to, David Bowie will have influenced it in some way. From his original appearance in the Glam Rock genre, he continued to innovate, experiment and subvert a wide variety of genres including electronic, plastic soul and pop. However, contrary to popular belief, Bowie actually did not enjoy performing. In his later years he said that his music was made for himself rather than for his fans. He believed in making music organically by letting his “imagination run wild” and seeing what happened. Only in one instance did he try and tailor his music to what he thought the public wanted, and regretted it immediately. Despite Let’s Dance being Bowie’s top selling album, he told The Telegraph in an interview in 1996 that he “got himself into a terrible mess”, and decided to go back to what made him happy. In his interview with The Word in 2003 he explained:
“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.”
1. BEING DIFFERENT
Most importantly, Bowie changed the stigma around being, well … different! He showed the world that it was more than okay to be yourself, and to do whatever makes you happy. He said:
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring” - Madison Square Gardens on his 50th Birthday.
Personally, I loved how he approached being different as a good thing. My most prominent childhood memory of this unorthodox king was in the film Labyrinth (1986) where he played the mysterious Goblin King.
After reading this article I ask you to do one thing: the next time you look at the stars, try and find the constellation dedicated to Bowie, in the shape of his famous lightning bolt. Just look up and remember, there is a Starman waiting in the sky.
Original Images by Harriet Fisk and Sally Nolan, playlist by Sally Nolan.