BIOGRAPHERS assure us that Elvis Presley was born in sweaty, bluesy Tupelo, in Mississippi, (January 8, 1935) and that Bob Dylan was born in America’s cold, wind-bitten, Minnesota mining town of Duluth (May 24, 1941).
They also assert that David Robert Jones was born in Brixton, London, just after WWII (January 8, 1947 — the same birthday as Presley), but it does not require the total suspension of reality to imagine that the person Jones became — David Bowie — was, like another of his alter egos, Ziggy Stardust, born, or at least conceived or discovered, on Mars.
David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, died peacefully yesterday, aged 69, after an 18-month battle with cancer.
Presley’s work, and most of Dylan’s, too, is rooted in the culture he sprang from, but David Bowie’s is the construct — now, sadly, the legacy — of a mind and heart indifferent to the limits of circumstance.
He used invention to challenge and question, and he set character after character aside when he found them unequal to the obligations of his journey towards mercurial self-realisation.
While Presley and Dylan worked the soil they found at their feet, Bowie scanned the horizon — sometimes even reaching beyond it.
Long before any of us grasped the idea of a virtual existence, of virtual reality, Bowie recognised that technology was changing the fundamentals of our world.
He saw that our world was less fixed than it once was and that it was becoming a place where reshaping was sometimes desirable, but always unavoidable.
Like all great artists, he was a seer as well as an actor, a creator, and an inventor.
In his songwriting and performance, he epitomised mystique, alienation, uniqueness, vibrancy, curiousity, honesty, inventiveness, otherworldliness, challenge, artistry, compassion, sexual ambivalence and an ephemeral sense of the other and otherness.
In his persona, he was a totem for those who found that their psychological and sexual instincts pushed them beyond the comfortable pale of normality.
He was a rallying point, a populist pathfinder for difference.
Of course, all of that can be said succinctly: he was a great artist and he has left, by any standard, a very significant body of work.
He realised the ambition he set for himself over a six-decade career: “I didn’t strive for success. I strived for something artistically important.”
The greatest part of that legacy, like many great artists’ impact, may stand outside his idiom of practice.
In a world where substance is so often secondary, where aspiration and realisation are too easily thought of as one, Bowie showed how art can be utterly transformative.
It may be an over-reach — but probably not — to suggest that the work of artists like Bowie sowed seeds that were harvested when the marriage-equality referendum was passed here, in a country that was not so very long ago aggressively conservative, and where Ziggy Stardust would have struggled to make the minor team.
Last week, on his 69th birthday, Bowie released his 26th album.
It bookended a career that was always inspirational and groundbreaking.
May he find the peace and calm he so obviously craved for in much of his wonderful life.
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