David Bowie Gave People The Confidence To Be Who They Wanted To Be

On January 10, 2016, David Robert Jones - better known to the universe as David Bowie - passed away just two days after his 71st birthday, which also marked the release of his 25th and final album, ★(aka Blackstar).

His death obviously left a giant hole in the world of music, but the loss was much greater and much deeper than that. We didn't just lose one of Britain's most unique and innovative musicians when Bowie left the planet, but also a powerfully inspirational figure - as both his friends and his many fans have continued to point out in the two years since.

David Bowie performing in 1979. Credit: PA
David Bowie performing in 1979. Credit: PA

When news of the death was reported at the start of 2016, one of the first people to comment on his passing was his friend and life-long collaborator Tony Visconti, who first worked with Bowie on his second album, 1969's Space Oddity, and also produced Blackstar. He wrote a touching message on Facebook to his late friend.

"He always did what he wanted to do," Visconti wrote. "And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of art.

"He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."

Tony Visconti. Credit: PA
Tony Visconti. Credit: PA

It's those first two sentences that really capture the essence of why David Bowie was such an important figure. Not only was he responsible for a deluge of incredible hits - from 'Space Oddity' to 'Life On Mars?', 'Heroes' to 'Changes', 'Five Years' to 'All The Young Dudes', to name just a few - but he gave people the courage of their convictions and the confidence for them to be exactly who they wanted to be - because that's how he lived his own life.

That's something Madonna agreed with too. Also writing on Facebook in the wake of his death, the pop superstar expressed just how much she valued Bowie's attitude towards being yourself, rather than conforming to other people's ideas of what and who you should be.

"David Bowie changed the course of my life forever," she wrote. "I never felt like I fit in growing up in Michigan. Like an oddball or a freak. I went to see him in concert at Cobo Arena in Detroit. It was the first concert I'd ever been too. I snuck out of the house with my girlfriend wearing a cape.

Madonna. Credit: PA
Madonna. Credit: PA

"We got caught after and I was grounded for the summer. I didn't care. I already had many of his records and was so inspired by the way he played with gender confusion. Was both masculine and feminine. Funny and serious. Clever and wise. His lyrics were witty, ironic and mysterious.

"And I saw how he created a persona and used different art forms within the arena of rock and roll to create entertainment."

She continued: "I found him so inspiring and innovative. Unique and provocative. A real genius. His music was always inspiring but seeing him live set me off on a journey that for me I hope will never end."

Never afraid to follow his own convictions, Bowie constantly defied the way people thought about things. He challenged British TV audiences' attitudes to sexuality when he performed 'Starman' on Top Of The Pops in 1972 - and all with the simple act of draping his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson's shoulder.

Meanwhile, by constantly reinventing himself - from alter egos like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke to his experimental 'Berlin trilogy' - he was able to express the many different facets of his character. What's more, he didn't scare people off by doing so. In fact, his supposedly-difficult Berlin period produced 'Heroes', one of the biggest hits he ever had.

To some, he's not even a musician, primarily. He's Jareth, the king of the goblins from Jim Henson's dark fantasy Labyrinth. He's the first person we see in the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs' The Snowman. He's FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries in Fire Walk With Me, the movie spin-off from cult TV show Twin Peaks. They call him one of pop culture's great chameleons - here's a few more reasons why.

Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. Credit: TriStar Pictures
Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. Credit: TriStar Pictures

To that extent, David Bowie was so much more than just a great songwriter and musician. He was that too - one of the best that Britain has ever produced, in fact - but he put his heart and soul into everything he did. He showed us that even if being yourself meant swimming against the stream, you could still thrive. It might not be easy, but it's certainly possible.

For acclaimed American songwriter Matthew Ryan, that's the ultimate lesson that he learned from David Bowie, and it's one that he's carried close to his heart ever since.

"I remember when I was a kid, Bowie made me uncomfortable," he tells LADbible. "I loved his music, but also his air, the way he looked, the theatre of it all. It was contrary to the bravado of the tough streets and movie message whispers regarding masculinity that I knew.

"His heart and music and melodies and longevity broke through my uneasiness. He helped to relieve my humanity of the useless narrows that are offered to us all. Art can do that. Bowie did that. What a gift."

What a gift, indeed. And while he may no longer be with us, his influence and impact will live on for a long time - if not forever.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Mischa Pearlman

Mischa is a freelance journalist usually based in either New York or London. He has written for Kerrang!, Record Collector, NME, the New York Observer and FLOOD magazine, among others. Contact him at [email protected]

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