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David Bowie, singer and artist of incomparable vision, dies at 69

David Bowie

G. Paul Burnett/New York Times

David Bowie



“In certain musical circles, there is no higher compliment than a comparison to David Bowie.”

I wrote those words Saturday, one day before Bowie, the incomparable, transcendent rock singer and icon of originality, succumbed to an 18-month battle with cancer.

I’d just begun writing a review of Bowie’s new album Blackstar, released Friday, his 69th birthday. It is dark, challenging, shape-shifting, shadowy, eyes resolutely on the future, not the past. It is also, in the grand Bowie tradition, so excellent you cannot believe it.

PHOTO GALLERY: David Bowie, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke

If any artist could sound so vital and irreplaceable just a day before his death, it was Bowie. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, The Man Who Fell To Earth – he was known by many names in a career that spanned a half-century and, many will argue, several planes and dimensions of time and space.

Bowie molded and re-molded pop culture in more ways than one can count – to name but one example, consider Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby, a worldwide sensation built entirely around the bassline from Bowie and Queen’s 1981 single Under Pressure. No doubt many fans who'd never even heard of Bowie danced away many nights to that one.

Bowie's most popular singles were not just career-defining, but life-defining – Heroes, Changes, Fame, Let’s Dance. He was also an icon of fashion and film, appearing in movies like Labyrinth, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Prestige and Zoolander.

But citing the greatest hits of Bowie’s life feels perfunctory, and almost misses the point of why generations around the world loved him so deeply.

When it comes to what we now know as alternative music – hell, alternative culture as a whole – there simply was no one larger than David Bowie. He was revered by his fellow creators, artists who cherished vision, reinvention and independence above all. Bowie was their Elvis, their Dylan, their Lennon and McCartney, all rolled into one.

“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations,” Kanye West tweeted early Monday, “so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”

The word lifetime here is so crucial. Blackstar is proof that Bowie left this earth on his own visionary terms. He was incomparable. There is no higher compliment one can give.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2016 11:06pm]


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