Rocker David Bowie has died of cancer at the tender age of 69.
Not much I can say about the man; some of my high-school friends would occasionally mouth his lyrics, and I suppose he was something of an ambient background presence throughout my teen years in the 1980s.
The 80s were a decade I'd rather forget. Everyone's sense of style sucked, including mine, and not much of the music was particularly memorable—at least for those of us who never ventured beyond the shallow end of the pop-music pool. I came away from the 80s with an appreciation for Eric Clapton and Sting and Huey Lewis and the News—singers I like to this day. Oh, yeah—throw in some Tina Turner. As for Mr. Bowie... I can recognize his songs once they've gone on for a few bars.
If there's anything I remember about Bowie, it's that he ventured outside the realm of music and into the realm of acting. He played a major musical role in the live-action puppet movie "Labyrinth," starring a very young and very chesty Jennifer Connelly. I never saw "Labyrinth," though, so there's nothing I can say about his performance in that film. More important, at least to me, is that he played the silky voice of Satan in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ." Having Bowie as Satan in a major movie was a bit like having Sting as the becodpieced ginger Feyd Rautha in David Lynch's "Dune." Scorsese's Satan's default form was a small-but-violent pillar of fire from which Bowie's relaxed voice emanated—the calm voice belying the agitated form. It made for interesting cognitive dissonance.
Beyond that, I can't say that I ever paid much attention to Mr. Bowie or his work since the 1980s. The news of his death brought me up short, but mainly because I knew he was supposed to be culturally important to many people. One online writer noted that Bowie was transmogrifying himself long before Madonna picked up the same shtick. He was an explorer and an experimenter, slinky and androgynous, comfortable straddling all sorts of borders. Despite all that, he never gained the sort of bad-boy reputation that a lot of his fellow rockers acquired, which makes me suspect that, under it all, he might have been that rare creature in show biz: a decent human being.
Farewell, Mr. Bowie, and thanks for entertaining those who knew you or appreciated you. No doubt your music will live on.
UPDATE: Malcolm has written a warm tribute to Bowie, whom he knew personally. Malcolm's post confirms that Bowie was indeed a mensch.