David Bowie

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I heard the sad news about David Bowie’s death this morning, and I couldn’t help myself.  Immediately the crushing opening chords of Ziggy Stardust thundered in my head, and I sang, with my internal voice, “Ziggy played guitar . . . .”

Bowie died Sunday at age 69 after a long illness.  He had a long and prolific career as a songwriter and performer.  He wrote All The Young Dudes — the Mott the Hoople classic — and recorded a series of fabulous songs in the ’70s, like The Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Rebel Rebel, and Diamond Dogs.  But I will always think of David Bowie for one reason:  his fertile brain and voice and persona created The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which I’ve said before is one of the very best rock albums ever made.  It’s easily in the top ten, and maybe in the top five.

It’s one of those albums that is perfect in concept and execution, from beginning to end, every song setting up the next, with interesting lyrics and compelling music and a weird back story that is as shining and wonderful and compelling now as it was the first time I heard it more than 40 years ago when I was in high school.  So many of the songs are deeply embedded into my consciousness and come bubbling up, unbidden; I will be walking home in the darkness and suddenly think “Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low -oh – oh . . . .”  I love every note of the album and know I always will.

Most of us don’t know, and will never know, what it is like to be touched by genius and produce a timeless and brilliant creative work.  David Bowie did know, and it happened to him more than once, but with Ziggy Stardust he reached a height that very few musicians ever touched.  He will be missed — but he will always be remembered.

Ziggy’s 65th

Happy birthday today to David Bowie.  Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke turns 65 today.

Bowie is an interesting character for a lot of reasons and has produced a lot of memorable music.  Bowie wrote All The Young Dudes — the epic song from the legendary band Mott the Hoople — and his playlist includes classics like The Jean Genie, Space Oddity, Diamond Dogs, and Changes, among many others.  Bowie is one of those artists who seems to leap easily from genre to genre, from hard rock to pop and back again.

To me, however, the greatest of Bowie’s many musical achievements is The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which I think is one of the very best rock albums ever made.  From Five Years to the initial chords of Moonage Daydream (“I’m an alligator . . . . “) to It Ain’t Easy to the power riffs of Ziggy Stardust (“Ziggy played guitar . . . .”) to the finale of Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide (“Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth . . . .”), the album is filled with stunningly good songs that are as interesting and powerful today, 40 years after they were first released, as they were back in 1972.

So Happy Birthday to you, Mr. Bowie.  You have made your mark.  And here’s a 1972 performance of Starman, another great song from the Ziggy Stardust album, that the rest of us can use to celebrate your big day.