David Bowie Has Magical Powers – Cartoon Logic
On the 18th of July 1996, I saw David Bowie perform live at the Phoenix Festival. I was barely three years old. Of course, I don’t remember this. I have since become a massive fan of this interstellar creature. In the back of my head, I’d always thought that it didn’t really matter that I couldn’t remember that performance, because I would see him perform again, maybe on a tour, or at Glastonbury perhaps, or in the core of an asteroid. Somewhere. Somewhen.
A lot has been said about David Bowie in the last few days. He’s been called a genius, which is entirely fair. If not him, then who else? His name has been spoken in the same breath as Elvis, Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra, and he achieved a vast amount from relatively humble origins. This bloke born in Brixton was a man who the German government literally believes was partially responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall.
His foresight was incredible. Supernatural, even. The best way to illustrate this, I think, is to imagine what would have happened had Bowie been born in 1987, not 1947; I suppose it’s not entirely impossible that we’d have a very different culture now. Regardless, I’m not certain that he would have been seen as such a visionary if Space Oddity had come out in 2009 instead of 1969. 2009 was a year of The Black Eyed Peas, Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal, Kids by MGMT, In for the Kill by La Roux, Rage Against the Machine as the Christmas Number One, and Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, Bad Romance and Just Dance (on an album called The Fame, no less). Would Bowie have stood out as a revolutionary in such an eclectic musical year, presuming that such a year would have happened if it weren’t for him?
Maybe. That’s not the point. David Bowie released Space Oddity forty years before all that. Forty years. That an enormous amount of foresight. He was so new. Think about it. He co-invented glam rock and inspired punk. He presented a very different form of masculinity. He explored gender issues years before they entered the mainstream. That’s like Star Wars coming out at the same time as the original Flash Gordon films, or 1984 coming out in 1908 (presumably under the title 1944), forty years before the historical events that inspired it.
His foresight didn’t end with his art. Newsnight recently uploaded an interview Bowie gave to Jeremy Paxman in 1999 in which, amongst other things, he gives his thoughts on the internet. In 1999, Google was a baby and Internet Explorer (remember that?!) ruled the world (wide web). In the interview, Paxman seems incredulous as Bowie describes the potential of the internet as transformative for culture, for entertainment providers and for consumers, in both good and bad ways. Take a listen. It’s legitimately weird how right he turned out to be. It’s the strongest argument I have ever seen for the existence of magical powers. I mean, he even timed his death perfectly!
You often hear people dismiss the brilliance of something new (just like Paxman does in that interview, devil’s advocate or otherwise). Anyone could have stuck a urinal on its side, or printed thirty-two soup cans, or dressed up as a bisexual alien with a lightning bolt on his face and stunned Top of the Pops, they say. That’s strictly true. Anyone could have. But Duchamp, but Warhol, but Bowie did it first. That’s the secret. Originality. And David Bowie was a brilliant original. He was way ahead of his time, and I think that’s all that matters. He wasn’t perfect, but he reinvented himself again and again. Never satisfied to stick with a winning formula. He regenerated more times than a Time Lord in a first person shooter.
To experience David Bowie is, I think, the closest you can get to experiencing creative perfection. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. He was, is, an utter, utter inspiration for anyone imaginative. A maverick, a chameleon, a legend. A magician. My vocabulary lacks the… what do you call them… words. My words aren’t original enough to capture his originality.
I never did see him perform again. But in the back of my head, some part of me imagines that I will, someday. It is only a matter of months before some sort of magical astral projection of Bowie emerges from a big stack of his albums hidden in a mystic Tibetan cave, and begins to perform once more. It wouldn’t even surprise me. This is a man who went from Laughing Gnome to Blackstar. Anything is possible. Expect more music. Expect more videos. David Bowie will return.