At the beginning of this week, the music industry lost an incredibly influential artist. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have no doubt heard by now that David Bowie has passed away after an 18-month struggle with cancer.
When I heard the news, the first thing I did was message my mum. Despite only being on the planet for the last 29 years of his 50+ years in the music industry, I was fully aware of his body of work and what it meant to so many people – mostly thanks to her.
There’s been a number of times in my life where my mum has told me what David Bowie meant to her growing up. She’d reminisce: “When you’re a skinny, spotty teenager and feeling like an outsider, suddenly there’s this skinny pale bloke with dodgy teeth who’s somehow gorgeous and he’s singing to you. He gets what it’s like to be you.”
I asked my mum today why he was such an influence on so many people.
“His persona was so new and different. No one has ever come close to him. He’s the original. His songs are the soundtrack to my life, from teenager right up to now,” she said.
I think that sentiment rings true for so many music fans. Throughout his career, Bowie had explored so many genres and concepts – there’s something for everyone.
But it’s not just the music world that lost a hero when David Bowie died.
While the Thin White Duke will be remembered mostly for his fearless and ground-breaking musical output, Bowie was also known for constantly pushing the boundaries, whether that was calling out racism, challenging the stereotypes of what makes a man a man, or being involved in innovative technologies.
Seeing as this is PCR, the latter is what I would like to draw your attention to.
Let’s start in 1987. Bowie used email to coordinate his 1989 Glass Spider tour. This may not seem like a particularly big deal, but considering email didn’t really become mainstream until the early 1990s, this would have been a very new concept for most people.
In 1996, Bowie released his first single for Earthling as an MP3 on his website. That was three years before Napster. Flash forward to 2016 and a band would be considered ‘out of touch’ if they didn’t make their music available via one of the numerous music streaming services.
I kid you not, the man even launched his own Internet Service Provider business in 1998. Two years later came BowieBanc, which was hailed as the internet’s first private-label bank.
Video games were another pool that Bowie dipped his toe into.
As well as the PC adaption of Labyrinth, in 1999, the game Omikron: The Nomad Soul was released. It was an adventure game developed by Quantic Dream for Microsoft Windows and Dreamcast. Bowie had some input in the storyline and game design. He made some cameo appearances within the game and also wrote the soundtrack.
Bowie’s influence on game designers is probably most evident in the Metal Gear Solid series, which includes numerous references to lyrics. Metal Gear Sold V even opens with Midge Ure’s cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World.
It’s clear to see from these examples (and there’s probably many more) that Bowie had an ability to look ahead and see how important technology would become in bringing himself closer to his fans.
He knew the art world and music scene didn’t have to just be this exclusive club and that the internet would be one of the biggest factors in exposing his music to people from all over the world and of all ages and generations.
I am genuinely sad that we’ve lost such a great visionary. Just imagine the inspirational music he would have produced and the new technology he would have championed if he had just another 69 years on Earth.
I will finish up this piece by leaving you with these final words from my mum:
“He was the coolest man on the planet. There will never be another Starman.”