the man who swayed the world

I do not own The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

But I do have Young Americans.

My collection has never contained Let’s DanceScary Monsters or Tonight.

But many is the hour I have spent in the company of the Eno-centric “Berlin trilogy.”

I have chosen my Bowies. I trust you have chosen yours. In a career spanning five decades, the artist provided more than enough starmen for everyone.

And today, a day when even Ray Davies and Kanye West have taken time to express their admiration and respect for someone other than themselves, there appears more than enough love to embrace each of those many personas.

I well remember enjoying a sampling of each at Montreal’s Bell Centre during what would turn out to be Bowie’s  final tour. That was a dozen years ago. (!) And it nearly did not happen: Bowie had been down with the flu and cancelled a number of shows leading up to the date. It was a gametime decision.

The assurance that all was well came before Bowie and band had played a single note. Shrouded in darkness, a lone figure silkily uttered three little words guaranteed the melt the hearts of all in attendance: “Bon soir, Montrèal.”

He could have turned and walked offstage at that point, and no one would have left disappointed. Instead, he provided a spirited, two-hour retrospective of a remarkable career — with all Bowies present and accounted for.

(Well, there was no Laughing Gnome, but even in a two-hour set, sacrifices must be made. So okay, most Bowies were present and accounted for.)

Today, the world is similarly reliving memories of those many men.

News of Bowie’s passing comes as we are still adjusting to a world without Lemmy. Look out, you rock and rollers; it may be time to accept your heroes’ mortality.

Bowie and Lemmy were, after all, no ordinary rock stars. Rather, here were the sort of so-called immortals and legends seemingly in our midst since time immemorial. In the recent Lemmy documentary, more than one peer joked that Lemmy would outlive us all.

Would that it could have been true. Alas, even immortal rockers are sadly all too mortal. And we have lost another.

(Keith Richards had better watch his back.)

My reaction to the news this morning was perhaps not unlike yours: I called-up a few favourite video clips — his offbeat Midnight Special special, his guest-spot on Marc Bolan’s TV show, his delightful contribution to Extras.

Shortly thereafter, seated at a coffeeshop where I was to meet a colleague, I listened and learned as the youngsters behind the counter talked music. A discussion of Guitar Hero triumphs and challenges revealed that not everyone is familiar with Rock Lobster, or even Rock the Casbah.

“What is a Casbah?” one inquiring barista wanted to know.

Yet, when one staffer informed a friend at the counter that David Bowie had died, each of the youngsters expressed shock. And awe. Clearly, this is one old rocker still able to command the respect of the next generation.

No small accomplishment.

True, there was no mention of Bowie songs, albums, or personas. It matters not. What matters is that each person recognized this as a great loss to both rock and roll.

Upon my return, I reached for a favourite LP among the pioneer’s chameleonic canon. I chose Pin Ups. For a man most of us could not pin down, Pin Ups is the nearest thing to a career blueprint. (Well, one might not derive from it either Tin Machine or a Nine Inch Nails partnership. I’m okay with that.)

It is a reverent and joyful album. Mick Ronson referred to it as his favourite, which is not nothing. A selection of covers, described in Bowie’s scribbled liner notes as “among my favourites from the ’64-’67 period of London,” Pin Ups revisits a crucial phase in the evolution of young David Jones — a time of searching for attention, for fame, for an identity.

Or several identities.

On Pin Ups, Bowie is Syd Barrett, The Pretty Things, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Easybeats. Moreover, Bowie is Bowie. Arguably, the roots of each future public persona are here. It came at a time when he was finally set to abandon his past attempts to be Bob Dylan.

Dylan, a man known to have changed stripes on occasion, had been a logical muse for young Master Bowie. Logical, but a little too obvious.

And Bowie, like all great artists, eschewed the obvious.

Would that there could be more such artists among us. May each of the immortals that were Dave Bowie rest in peace.

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