As an ex-hippy, and an old guy to boot, I could not but help take keen interest in tonight’s news item: ‘David Bowie dead at 69’. I was heavily into the rock scene from the mid-60s until my conversion to Christ out of a wild counter culture life in 1971, age 18.
English rocker David Bowie was of course already big stuff even by then. He had four albums out up to that point, and big hits included titles such as “Space Oddity” (1969), and “Changes (1971). I of course did not really follow his career as much after my conversion, nor that of any of the other rockers I was so much into as a youth.
But let me offer a few brief reflections here. Rebellion was of course such a big part of the counter culture and the rock music scene during the late 60s and early 70s. This was especially evident in the way social, sexual and moral conventions were challenged, flouted and rejected. David Bowie certainly fit right into all of this.
He was certainly a “musical chameleon,” known for pushing social rebellion and sexual androgyny. Indeed, pushing boundaries was always a big part of his earlier persona, and his many differing looks highlighted the radically changing times in which he lived.
In 1972 he introduced his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. It would take his career even further into the stratosphere. His 1974 hit “Rebel Rebel” was a good expression of all this. As one write-up about it goes:
This song is about a boy who rebels against his parents by wearing makeup and tacky women’s clothes. It was a defining song of the “Glam Rock” era. Characterized by feminine clothes and outrageous stage shows, Glam was big in England in the early ’70s. Bowie had the most mainstream success of the glam rockers.
Three years before this was released, Bowie admitted he was bisexual. The announcement seemed to help his career, as he gained more fans and wrote more adventurous songs. In 1972, Bowie produced “Walk On The Wild Side” for Lou Reed, which is another song celebrating transgender individuals.
He had earlier claimed that he was bisexual, but later he said that this was “the biggest mistake I ever made” and “I was always a closet heterosexual”. He admitted that he was driven more by “a compulsion to flout moral codes than a real biological and psychological state of being”.
In 1975 he had the hit song, “Fame”. In a 2003 interview he said this about the subject:
“Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant. That must be pretty well known by now. I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be all and end all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs. However arrogant and ambitious I think we were in my generation, I think the idea was that if you do something really good, you’ll become famous. The emphasis on fame itself is something new. Now it’s, to be famous you should do what it takes, which is not the same thing at all. And it will leave many of them with this empty feeling. Then again, I don’t know if it will, because I think a lot of them are genuinely quite satisfied. I know a couple of personalities over in England who are famous for being famous, basically. They sort of initially came out of the pop world, but they’re quite happy being photographed going everywhere and showing their kids off and this is a career to them. A career of like being there and turning up and saying, ‘Yes it’s me, the famous girl or guy’ (laughs). It’s like, ‘What do you want?’ It’s so Warhol. It’s as vacuous as that. And that to me, is a big worry. I think it’s done dreadful things to the music industry. There’s such a lot of rubbish, drivel out there.”
Bowie had plenty of fame of course. But now there are only memories. As I will mention in a moment, what happens in this life is important, but it is the next life that really matters.
“Heroes” came out in 1977, and this is one song I often like to share with others. We certainly need heroes, and although Bowie would likely have had different thoughts in mind with this than I, I still am happy to use it to encourage folks to be the hero the world is looking for.
One write up of the song explains its background:
This song tells the story of a German couple who are so determined to be together that they meet every day under a gun turret on The Berlin Wall. Bowie, who was living in Berlin at the time, was inspired by an affair between his producer Tony Visconti and backup singer Antonia Maass, who would kiss “by the wall” in front of Bowie as he looked out of the Hansa Studio window. Bowie didn’t mention Visconti’s role in inspiring this song until 2003, when he told Performing Songwriter magazine: “I’m allowed to talk about it now. I wasn’t at the time. I always said it was a couple of lovers by the Berlin Wall that prompted the idea. Actually, it was Tony Visconti and his girlfriend.
This piece is neither an obituary nor any sort of helpful summary of his life. Plenty of other writers can and will offer that. This is merely a very brief reflection of Bowie, a bit of my life, and some biblical truths. And the most vital truth is the question of where one will spend eternity.
What is of the most importance here is his spiritual condition. Sadly we are not aware that Bowie ever got right with God through Jesus Christ, although others might enlighten me further on this. We do know of his 2004 Esquire interview in which he said this:
I’m in awe of the universe, but I don’t necessarily believe there’s an intelligence or agent behind it. I do have a passion for the visual in religious rituals, though, even though they may be completely empty and bereft of substance. The incense is powerful and provocative, whether Buddhist or Catholic.
Hmm, not very promising stuff there. He had suffered from cancer for the past one and a half years. As it has been said, ‘the prospect of death concentrates the mind wonderfully’. It is certainly hoped that during the past 18 months at least Bowie did indeed reflect on the state of his soul and his eternal destiny.
But his shock death should be a lesson to us all. Our lives are so short. One day we are in the prime of our life, and the next day we are gone. As we read in 1 Peter 1:24:
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall.”
That’s for sure. May the death of this famous rocker remind us all of vitally important truths, such as who we are, where we are headed, and whether we are right with our maker.