It’s been a tough week for anyone who loves music and I want to beg your indulgence for a few minutes to talk about a true legend and icon who sadly passed away this week.
In the early hours of Monday morning news emerged that rock icon David Bowie had died after a long fight against cancer, just two days after his sixty-ninth birthday and the launch of his latest album Blackstar.
Hollywood’s best and brightest were alerted when DJs at the many after-parties following the Golden Globes ceremony started playing wall-to-wall Bowie tunes. The great man’s friend and Globes presenter Ricky Gervais was straight onto Twitter.
I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) January 11, 2016
Indeed, Bowie’s 1977 album Heroes was my first introduction to the great man. I dug out the precious piece of vinyl this week and have been playing it constantly.
The timing was one of the things that made his death so shocking. The new album and his Broadway show Lazarus suggested someone still in creative good health, if not physical.
His long-time producer and friend Tony Visconti played a tribute gig last Friday at the Highline Ballroom in New York City during which fans sang happy birthday to Bowie over the phone.
This week Visconti told Rolling Stone Bowie had Facetimed him recently and said he had a bunch of other songs already for a follow-up album to Blackstar.
But it wasn’t to be. Bowie slipped away on Sunday. In typically unconventional fashion, and in line with his wishes, he was apparently cremated shortly after he died without any family or friends present. The last account he followed on Twitter was God.
His death has affected people in a way I haven’t seen before, from ordinary music fans to global megastars, not just in Bowie’s home country the UK, but also in the US and all over the world.
David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 11, 2016
David Bowie, you will be sorely missed. Bowie's "Changes" and the Ziggy story songs were a major influence for me. pic.twitter.com/N1nkD9h82W— Gene Simmons (@genesimmons) January 11, 2016
Despite his cosmopolitan nature and having lived principally in New York for many years, Bowie remained very much a South London working class boy. Thousands of fans gathered in his hometown of Brixton on Monday evening for an impromptu and extremely emotional memorial/party/celebration of the Thin White Duke’s life and career.
Friends of mine in the UK say the whole country went into a state of mourning. Grown men and women of a certain era have been displaying surges of emotion rarely seen before as they remember his life.
It’s certainly true that people have a particular connection to their heroes from the time when they were growing up, because it was literally the soundtrack to their lives and is completely intertwined with their personal stories.
I’ll try to spare you anymore trite "lessons communicators and marketers can learn from David Bowie" shtick, but I do think his life, music, attitudes, and opinions speak volumes to anyone interested in creativity, culture, and pure inspiration.
Has there ever been a "brand" that reinvented itself as many times as Bowie? From The Laughing Gnome to Ziggy Stardust to Major Tom to Aladdin Sane to The Thin White Duke to Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, and beyond: Bowie never stood still.
He was influenced by many different people, trends, and styles, but always took the best from these influences to create something new. And he influenced pretty much every musical, fashion, and cultural trend that followed his arrival on the scene, from punk to new wave, new romantic, hip-hop, Brit pop, house music, and so on.
He always had intelligent, thoughtful, and provocative opinions and never simply went along with the crowd. Watch him here predicting the future of the internet and the incredible impact it would have on the world in this 2000 interview with a skeptical English journalist.
Marvel at the way he skillfully deconstructs and demolishes the argument of this MTV presenter and subtly berates the music channel for the lack of airspace it gave to black artists in its nascent years.
He was ahead of the game musically, on gender and sexuality, on race, style, fashion, art, globalization, technology, and so much more
And he had a fantastic sense of humor. One of my favorite examples of this is Bowie’s brilliant appearance in Ricky Gervais’ Extras playing himself confronted by a needy fan looking for approbation and only finding embarrassment. It’s perfect, and well worth a watch.
One of my most cherished memories is seeing David Bowie performing a version of Life on Mars live in New York City at the Yahoo Music Awards in 2000, accompanied just by a pianist. He then does a great unprompted riff on technology at the end. Sometimes in this business you are privileged to be able to experience true life moments and to call it "work."
There’s a meme been going around this week to the effect that we should all be happy because the world is 4.5 billion years old and we somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie. How true that is.
At a time when we talk a lot about New Influencers – PRWeek is running a great feature on this topic in February by the way – it’s worth remembering that David Bowie was one of the original new influencers.
He ends the Yahoo riff with the words: "I’ll just keep trying, and try never to bore you." You never did mate. And your example is a constant source of inspiration to anyone working in a creative industry. RIP.
Thumbnail image via Louise McLaren / Flickr; Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; cropped from original