By Ernest Barteldes
I think I was 13 years old when I first heard David Bowie’s voice. The year was 1981, and a local radio station I used to hang out around (those were the days) got an advance copy of his collaboration with Queen. I was one of the first in the room to hear what was to become John Deacon’s iconic bassline that kicked off “Under Pressure,” the most memorable tune from the band’s “Hot Space” album, which would go into history as one of the least appreciated of the band’s career – except for this tune.
A couple of years later, Bowie released what would have become his most commercial album – the disco-inflected “Let’s Dance,” whose title track is still in rotation in many classic rock and oldies stations. I recall not being very impressed by that one song, but hearing the other songs on the disc showed me that he had not really sold out – he was just experimenting, as ever, with new sounds and textures.
Around that time, he was very much in the spotlight not as a musician but as an actor in films like “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “The Hunger” and others. Those films were really unmemorable, and I am glad that he turned back to music after that, even if he never really quit appearing in film and TV – even SpongeBob Squarepants.
Though I was not a huge fan of Bowie’s canon, I did have great admiration for his body of work – how many musicians have been able not only to reinvent themselves but to remain relevant over a period of five decades without relying on crowd pleasers during live performances? The only equivalent would be Bob Dylan, who still raises eyebrows whenever he makes an album – that no longer happens to folks like Paul McCartney or Sting – and I am a fan of both artists.
David Bowie was an inspiring artist who was not a bullshitter in any way or form. Fellow journalists and musicians who were fortunate enough to meet him have said that he was a down-to-earth, unpretentious guy in spite of his musical genius – and this is not something you see every day
He will be sorely missed.