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Farewell to The Man Who Fell To Earth

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One of the cover art outtakes of David Bowie for the 1973 album “Aladdin Sane,” which was part of the “David Bowie Is” exhibition that traveled to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Duffy Archive via David Bowie Archive/Chris Duffy) One of the cover art outtakes of David Bowie for the 1973 album “Aladdin Sane,” which was part of the “David Bowie Is” exhibition that traveled to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Duffy Archive via David Bowie Archive/Chris Duffy)

 

'Come on, it can't be real,' I thought to myself at 2:30 am on Monday. I saw the headline but it didn't make any sense. And then I found the official post on his Facebook page. The thoughts were coming all at once and none of them made sense. 'David Bowie died? That isn't possible. He just released a new album on his birthday. There must be a mistake.'

Way back when, I really thought there was a chance that Bowie came to Earth from another planet. Maybe he just went home.

Like most 70s kids, I have distinct memories of hearing Bowie's music and seeing him on TV. His hits sounded like nothing else on the radio in those days. 'Fame,' 'Golden Years,' and 'Young Americans' sound just as fresh and original 40 years later.

David Bowie's appearance on Bing Crosby's 'Merrie Olde Christmas' special in 1977 made an indelible impression on virtually everyone who saw it. I was watching with my mother, father and youngster. Mom's reaction: 'That David Boo-ie is a little different.' Yes, he was, and we loved him for it.

Filmed approximately five weeks before Crosby's sudden death from a heart attack, Bowie (playing himself) happens to 'drop by' to use the piano of one of Bing's distant British relatives. Before long, the pair peruse sheet music together before settling on 'Little Drummer Boy.'

Crosby handles the 'ruh-puh-pum-pums' while Bowie introduces an all together different counterpoint song called 'Peace on Earth.' Years later, we found out that Bowie's part exists because he hated 'Little Drummer Boy' with the passion of a thousand white-hot suns. The tune underwent an emergency retooling, to Bowie's liking, literally minutes before he and Bing gave us a Christmas song for the ages.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the whole thing was how 'normal' Bowie made himself appear on Bing's Christmas special. We expected to see the man who came here from another planet. The game-changer who recorded music that was unmistakably his. He was a man who infrequently appeared on television not because he wasn't asked but because of careful image control.

No other rock star, before or since, has come close to Bowie's mastery of image manipulation. In this case, he did Bing's show because his mother was a fan of Mr. Crosby's and he only wanted to make her happy.

He was probably rock's greatest actor. From 'The Man Who Sold The World' to 'Ziggy Stardust' to 'Aladdin Sane' to his mid-70s soul period to the Thin White Duke of 'Station to Station' to the beautiful weirdness of 'Scary Monsters' and the hit 'Ashes to Ashes' through his onstage and onscreen performances as 'The Elephant Man,' 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' and as Jareth (The Goblin King) in 'The Labyrinth,' Bowie gave us a series of characters, loosely based on elements of his own personality all with one thing in common alienation.

In a 1987 interview, he recognized this truth. 'You know, most of my characters have been sort of alienated and that's the one thing that people really think. Do I belong here? Who are my friends? You know, does anybody like me? All those things. Am I on my own? God, it's terrifying to be alone in this world.'

When his commercial apex arrived in the form of the album 'Let's Dance' and the subsequent 'Serious Moonlight' tour in 1983, some accused Bowie of selling out. To whom? To people who like him? Again, he had the perfect answer.

Interviewer: You strive for success. You achieved success. And now you sit here in your green chair, looking back at it all. Bowie: Not true! I didn't strive for success. I strived to do something artistically important, and success over here, I believe, is in kind of the material world. So can I just say that before we start? I wanted to do something artistically valid.

To another interviewer who suggested that Bowie's art might not be as valid since it was so commercially successful: 'I don't begrudge any artist for getting an audience. I'm sorry but I have never found that poverty meant purity.'

In the end, we can assume that Bowie is playing himself in the haunting video for 'Lazarus,' from the album 'Blackstar,' released two days before his death.

We see Bowie lying in what appears to be a hospital bed. He shakes and levitates as he sings. 'Look up here, I'm in Heaven. I have scars that can't be seen.' We see Bowie frantically writing as fast as the ideas can come to him trying to get it all down before the end.

He didn't tell us that he was ill. Why should he have? Since 1969, he's been virtually unable to blow his nose without flashbulbs and headlines. How fitting that his final act was kept a total secret and that his departure from this world became his last statement.

It seems a more than a little unsettling to imagine a world without David Bowie. It's comforting to think that he isn't really dead but was merely called home to some distant planet.

'The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow' can be heard on Big 104 FM The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s & '80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor/Ellsworth)

Last modified on Friday, 21 July 2017 12:28

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