‘Turn and face the strange’ is in my opinion one of the most powerful lyrics ever written and really summarises the impact of an immense icon. In 1964, a seventeen-year-old Bowie announced during an interview that he intended to start the ‘society for the prevention of cruelty to long haired men’ and from then it became obvious that he wasn’t just an artist but a political activist fighting to help society embrace differences. Sure, this is a semi-comedic example, but David Bowie really did help people broaden their definitions of gender, music, sexuality and appearance. Social media this week has been full of statuses, articles and comments that provide evidence of this impact that he had on the lives of young people of multiple generations. Bowie openly admitted his flaws as well as his oddness and showed the public that there was no requirement to be super-human in order to be significant.
His newest album ‘Blackstar’ was released for his 69th birthday the same week that he passed away having suffered from cancer. The album has been described as a parting gift to his fans, something to remember him by as he was apparently aware he was not expected by doctors to survive another year. Songs from ‘Blackstar’ as well as chart toppers from as far back as the 1970s have taken over the online charts since his death, making Bowie as dominant in this week’s lists as Justin Bieber. I think the reason he stood out so much in the music industry and the reason his influence spanned such a long time period was due to the sentiment behind his music; one of acceptance, differences and the inspiration to believe in yourself no matter what life threw at you. Although they may be the most obvious and I’m willing to admit to being seriously mainstream, my top five Bowie tracks have to be ‘Heroes’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Starman’. Despite being released way before my time, these are the songs that got me through my first few months of sixth form as an angsty teen with recently divorced parents and a whole new academic setting. Bowie’s music makes you feel capable of taking on anything and as if you can be whomsoever you wish and still have the potential for success.
He became a timeless mystical figure projecting confidence into people’s lives and even now his music never fails to uplift me no matter how bad my mental health is or what is going on at that moment in my life. His lyrics may sound like he’s totally high but they create a make believe place where the boundaries of social constraints are removed and where people can relax. David Bowie redefined what it meant to be a man, which, considering how much of an icon he was, assisted the blurring of gender boundaries and helped to break down society’s enforced roles of femininity and masculinity. Bowie didn’t care what the media thought of him or about the comments of his critics; he raised awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and openly referenced his own fluid sexuality and gender. People are quick to say that prejudice doesn’t exist anymore but it definitely does, so in the ‘70’s this was even more necessary and a very new concept that was crucial for the progression of humanity.
Since his death a lot of negative press on Bowie has emerged with questions being raised; sexual abuse scandals, appropriation of queer culture and paedophilia have been referenced all over the internet. Despite my respect for social justice, I found myself deciding to save these questions for another day. I need time to mourn the death of a great icon before I mourn the fact that I may have been ignorant of allegations he faced. Many people would quickly condemn this but as someone who very rarely gets emotional over celebrities I doubt I have the mental capacity to find out so much about a hero of mine in one week. A friend suggested we have to separate the art from the artist and I feel this is the perfect explanation. Perhaps as a person, someone could be condemned, but their legacy may still have had a great impact on a variety of people and that on its own is immensely valuable in a world that so often turns us against one another.
Feeling that my own views do not do Bowie’s work justice, I asked people to offer their comments:
‘His whole image projected that he didn’t give a fuck. He was so weird, and embraced it rather than apologising for it, and he was so beautiful. He somehow confused a very judgmental world into admitting that this glorious gender fucking, queer as hell man, was wonderful, and someone we all wanted to be like. And he acted like he loved and accepted all his fans, and created this little space to exist as a freak, knowing that even if no one else would, Bowie would accept you. – Elena
‘He was a magical figure, who seemed to exist outside of the tedious, unhappy world I had to inhabit, who welcomed me into something bigger, something spectacular, effervescent. Somebody who made me realise it was okay to be a walking question mark, that you didn’t need to know the answer to ‘What am I?’ in order to say, proudly, ‘I am.’’ – Quen
‘Bowie did wonderful things for queer and bisexual visibility. Even if only talking openly about his image and experiences, it gave his fans a rare LGBT icon in celebrity culture. Also he just gave no fucks what critics felt about him or wanted of him. He’d kill off personas/images and create new and equally brilliant ones just as critics thought he was only getting started with the last one.’ – Kate
‘The first time I heard him I was eight and our Head Teacher played Space Oddity at the start of assembly, although my first thought was “wow this guy’s poor wife she probably will need to pay the mortgage by herself now” (I was quite an advanced child) it awoke something in me. Some kind of warm fuzzy feeling (I have never been very advanced in the articulation of emotion) and I think a lot of people have that when they hear Bowie for the first time.’ – Ellie
‘Sometimes when I’m having doubts about my social skills he comes and strokes my beard and tells me everything is going to be just fine. Or I’m sure he would, if we ever met, and he hadn’t died. God I miss Bowie.’ – Max