Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rebel, Rebel

Celebrity deaths don't usually affect me much. The last one that really hit my wife and me hard was Steve Jobs, who died of cancer in 2011. It's hard to explain the connection that Apple users had with him. We all felt like we knew him. He had a significant impact on our lives. When Sharon heard about his death, she gasped. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. Somehow, I don't think PC users will react that way when Bill Gates dies.

That's a little bit how I feel today after hearing about the death of one of my long time musical heroes, David Bowie. If you ask Sharon and me who our top five artists are, he would make both of our lists. We saw him live three times. The first time was in the 1980's, when his career was at its peak, at the old Mile High Stadium. The Glass Spider Tour. He had Peter Frampton on guitar. We also saw him live twice more in the last 10-15 years. Our dog Ziggy is named after his song, Ziggy Stardust. We own 19 of his albums, and we don't have them all. An incredible catalog, hundreds of songs deep and over four decades long.

I've never really cared much about an artist's image. I don't like or dislike an artist because of how they present themselves, what their lifestyle is, or how good of a role model they are to today's youth. I know I should care about those things, but I never have. All I'm interested in is the music. The songs are what matters to a songwriter like me. And as a songwriter, David Bowie was tough to beat. Just about everyone can think of a David Bowie song that they like, if they've paid any attention to popular music over the last 40 years. I wish I could say that about my music.

One reason I, and many people, identify with Bowie is that he was the ultimate outsider. Every kid of my generation who felt like an outcast at school could relate to him. In the 1970's, if you felt like you were different than everyone else, David Bowie was the artist you were drawn to. His early androgynous image was shocking to the older generation, which of course, was the point. Every generation has The Artist Most Scary To Your Parents, whether it be Elvis Presley, Alice Cooper, KISS, or Marilyn Manson. David Bowie provided that for my generation in the early 70's.

Then he shocked his glitter rock followers a few years later by combing his hair back and donning a plain gray suit. His Thin White Duke phase. No artist has reinvented him or herself more than he has, and he invented the concept of reinventing yourself.

And oh yes, he was also a great singer. A fine sax player as well. He began his career as a sax player at age 14.

Unlike many artists who have long careers, Bowie continued to be at the top of his game all the way to the end. Our favorite Bowie albums aren't the old ones. His more recent stuff is even better, we think. Our top 5 David Bowie albums, for any who might be interested, are as follows:

1. Earthling
2. Heathen
3. Reality
4. Heroes
5. Diamond Dogs

He always was a cutting edge artist. Long time Bowie fans have long suspected that he could crank out a classic Bowie album whenever he wanted to, but he preferred to experiment. As a result, his albums tend to be uneven, and he lacks a consistent style. But that makes me appreciate him more, because I'm the same way. He released his final album, Blackstar, on his birthday last week. He knew this would be his last album, and wrote it specifically as his closing statement. I bought it and listened to it today. It's very odd. There isn't a radio hit on it. But that's Bowie. With most artists, you pretty much know what you're gonna get when you buy an album. That's never been the case with David Bowie, which is why his fans love him so much.

When you're a rock & roll musician, you feel like a rebel, even if you don't really rebel all that much. Bowie's song, Rebel, Rebel, is an anthem for the rock & roll generation.

As expressions of sorrow came from around the world at Bowie's passing, Germany thanked him for his impact on the Berlin Wall coming down. People don't remember this, but David Bowie held a concert at the Berlin Wall one week before Ronald Reagan made his famous "Tear down this wall" speech there. The concert caused riots, and his song Heroes became the unofficial theme song of the East German liberation movement in the 1980's. That's making a difference with your music.

So why am I talking about this in my cancer blog? The fact that he died of cancer at age 69 has something to do with it, of course. They aren't saying what kind of cancer he had, but he was a lifelong smoker, so lung cancer is a good guess. But he was the right age for prostate cancer too. Suddenly, at this stage of my life, when one of my musical heroes dies of cancer, I want very much to know what kind. Does it make a difference? Not really, but I want to know anyway.

While I was pretty much a good church kid during my youth, I still identified with the rebels. The hippies. The Vietnam war protesters. If Christians all started condemning a certain pop star or rock band, that was when I got interested in them. I had both Andrae Crouch and Black Sabbath in my record collection. Still do, by the way. And even though I never dropped out of school or became a juvenile delinquent, ask my parents if I rebelled at home. It's in my nature to chafe against rules and restrictions. It's why I made such a miserable employee and student, but flourished as a self employed musician.

In the end, however, even the young rebels must become old people. If we're lucky, that is. There is an appointment that we all must keep one day, and no amount of wealth or Fame (another great Bowie song - written with John Lennon, BTW) can delay it. We can rage against the machine in our youth, but Father Time is undefeated. Ziggy Stardust must give way to The Thin White Duke.

So while Rebel, Rebel still blasts from my car stereo speakers, the VERY thin white duke who lives at our house, all 127 pounds of him, doesn't feel much like a rebel anymore. But I never joined the establishment either!

If you own a David Bowie album, put it on and turn it up loud. If you don't, get one! #waroncancer

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