Remembering David Bowie

Lauren Glasby/Staff

When news of David Bowie’s passing broke Sunday, social media was flooded with posts from fans and friends alike, celebrating the rockstar’s incredible life in the wake of his death. What struck us at The Daily Californian most was that it seemed as if everyone had their own Bowie story — a story of how they found him, of what he meant to them and how they grew to love him. These are some of ours.

It’s an interesting fact of life that when an artist dies, the amount that people listen to him or her increases by 2000 percent. And I, following suit, decided that on the day after David Bowie’s death, I would listen to exclusively him. As I was chronologically making my way through his lengthy discography, my favorite album of his, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), began to play and I was suddenly struck by the versatility of Bowie. He wrote about “Fashion” (“it’s loud and it’s tasteless”), the fears of youth (“Because You’re Young”) and political hostages (“Scream Like a Baby”), all in a single album. That’s what really makes him a timeless artist; and as someone obsessed with “relevancy,” Bowie is one of my favorites.

A man who has musically and artistically transcended the boundaries of decades, Bowie was never claimed by a time period, never stuck in the clutches of the immobile past. While most of his contemporaries faded into the decade from whence they came, Bowie maintained a sense of relevancy that is impossible to find within music today. With wit, finesse and style, he created and broke genres in his own right, fluidly travelling across the soundsphere and musical landscapes.

After studying mime (a mark of a true showman, because what other musical artist has actually attempted to mime for the sake of their art?), Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, a stage persona never seen by the likes of humankind. Yet instead of becoming a caricature of his former self, he left Ziggy behind and created the Thin White Duke, a take on American soul.

Bowie, aging just as gracefully as his sound, did not attempt to reinstate a new glam rock scene, but explored realms previously untouched by his art. By pioneering unexplored sound and by not desperately attempting to remain relevant, he created relevancy.

I refuse to end this on the mark of a corny play on words from “Space Oddity” (i.e. “the stars look very different to Mr. Bowie today”), so I’ll end it with a short excerpt from the poem Autobiographia Literaria by Frank O’Hara, one of Bowie’s favorite poets. Perhaps this is how a young Davie Jones felt as he was fluttering upon the cusp of the creation of the megastar that is David Bowie: “And here I am, the / center of all beauty! / writing these poems! /Imagine!” Surely you couldn’t have imagined all of this, Davie!

— Kayla Oldenburg

I think the most magical thing about David Bowie’s music, in my life, was that I never made an effort to find him, but he always found me.

The first time I ever heard a Bowie song was in 2005. “Ziggy Stardust” was my favorite song to play on the original Guitar Hero for PlayStation 2, and my 10-year-old self was struck by the strange lyrics, mesmerized that a song like this was allowed to exist. I was equally disturbed and fascinated by the lyrics, cringing as I embracing Bowie’s stylized vocal as he wailed, “Making love with his ego / Ziggy sucked up into his mind / Like a leper messiah.” The song was weird, and I was (and still am) weird. But at that age, I knew not how to embrace it. When friends would come over to play the game with me, I would bashfully choose “Ziggy Stardust” when it came my turn to curate our song choice, nervously pressing the green-red-yellow-blue-orange buttons while I watched my friends strum out of the corner of my eye, worried they would judge me for picking such a strange tune.

They never did. And what I didn’t realize until years later was that Bowie’s music was created to teach you to embrace the weird, even if you stumble upon him in the most unorthodox ways.

I never actively sought out Bowie’s music, but whenever it appeared in my life, I loved it, even before I knew that it was his. Like his iconic cameo on my parents’ Best of Queen CD. Or Lindsay Lohan’s dramatized cover of “Changes” on “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.” Or as the previously unidentified “tunnel song” for infinite moments in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

It is a testament to his greatness that his work can be found in so many different pockets of popular culture, reaching so many different generations of people far past what many may have called his prime. And I am grateful to have found him in those little moments, learning not only to turn and face the strange, but to embrace it with no reservations.

— Rosemarie Alejandrino

When I was younger, I owned three albums: Green Day’s Dookie, Nirvana’s Lithium and David Bowie’s Heroes. I grew up with David Bowie and Major Tom. When I thought I could play guitar, I did an acoustic cover of “Space Oddity” (which is incidentally the only song I could ever play and sing at the same time). A year ago, I was Aladdin Sane for Halloween.

David Bowie is one of my heroes. After his death, he has been cemented in his position as a legend. His last album is an interpretation of his struggle with his death. David Bowie was the voice that reached the odd outsider in all of us, and his voice echoes on. Author Terry Pratchett once said, “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” If that is the case, David Bowie will live on for a very long time.

Anderson Lanham

Pretty much everyone that knows me knows that I’m a major film fan/nerd/geek or whatever term you want to use. Because of my love for all things cinema, many of my literature and music choices are influenced from the films that I watch. With this taken into consideration, I honestly can’t name a musician who has been used more in cinema than David Bowie and thus, had more of an impact on my tastes than any other musician. With recent films such as “The Martian” with “Star Man” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” with “Moonage Daydream,” it’s clear that David Bowie’s heavily cinematic sound and storytelling-esque lyrics have had a lasting impact on not only musicians of all genres, but also on filmmakers.

Bowie’s transcendence past traditional genre labels in the effort to sound alien has made him become one of the most iconic artists. He’s basically the Stanley Kubrick or Philip K. Dick of music. Try to listen to “Space Oddity,” and not instantly create cinematic images within your head that correspond with Bowie’s endearingly bizarre lyrics.

Wes Anderson, my favorite filmmaker, used Bowie music exclusively for one of my favorite films, “The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou.” The blending of honest emotion with artificial design of Anderson’s film created a beautiful marriage with Bowie’s desire to always be unique, while honoring the classics, in his soundscapes.  

Quentin Tarantino even used Bowie to perfection in “Inglorious Basterds,” using the song “Cat People.”

Even more importantly, Bowie starred in some art-house classics that, thanks to the Criterion Collection, will not be soon forgotten. Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” is a legitimate work of art and a true sci-fi classic. Bowie’s performance as an alien is about as memorably alien as his music. Then there is Nagisa Oshima’s hardly-seen classic, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” which attempts to explain the difference between East-West culture, set during a WWII internment camp in Japan. Bowie stars as a British major who tries to stands up to the oppressive Captain Yonoi, played by legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. While brutally graphic at times, Bowie nonetheless gives his best on-screen performance, one that is truly moving.

Bowie’s music and his cinematic career has led his son, Duncan Jones, to become a director. Jones’ first film was “Moon,” a tiny little sci-fi film that had a strong satirical slant against big business. His father was surely proud, as the essence of “Moon” is practically that of “Space Oddity.” Jones has proved to be such a good director that Universal and Legendary Pictures have hired him to direct the upcoming “Warcraft,” a big-budget adaptation of the popular video game series “World of Warcraft.”

On a strictly personal account, Bowie has influenced my own writing. The first time I dabbled in screenwriting, Bowie was the artist I listened to. Every once in awhile, I would try to listen to another artist — maybe Kanye West, maybe John Lennon, maybe Dan Deacon — but no other artist created the specific mood that the story I was writing called for. So after listening to “Ziggy Stardust” on repeat, with some of his self-titled album thrown in there, I finished my first script. It was an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” which blended perfectly with Bowie’s own existentialist and alienation themes.

All in all, in some sense, I wouldn’t be the way I was without Bowie’s influence on the filmmakers I love and enjoy.

— Levi Hill

What always captivated me about David Bowie was how he blended easily and not so easily into our world. He was someone delicately fragile and feeling like us, but his conscience always existed on a higher plane. Bowie was made of the same flesh and bone as we were, but the peculiarity, the directness, the sharpness of his countenance alone was simply otherworldly. It was just like his music.

That’s what Bowie always represented to me: human potential. Someone who stood on the precipice of what was known and constantly stretched our imagination to think and feel in textures and colors that were otherwise unfathomable. Etched into his existence was brilliant intelligence and a cosmic beauty.

His death didn’t feel like death, in the way we treat the word. His death felt like an ascension back into the poetic abyss from which he came.

Writing this now, I remember in 1976 the way his coral locks spilled over his forehead, as a knowing grin stretches across his porcelain skin after a woman asks him what he does for a living.

“Oh, I’m just visiting,” he says in the movie, whose title reflects the very essence of who David Bowie was to the rest of us. He was the Man Who Fell to Earth. He’s always been our Starman, waiting in the sky.

—Bo Kovitz