To say David Bowie was one of the most influential rockstars of all time feels like even more of an understatement now that he’s gone. On Sunday night, the shocking news of his death spread across the Internet after it was reported that Bowie lost his 18-month battle with cancer at age 69, mere days after releasing his new album, Blackstar, and having his final stage play Lazarus produced. Although these are newer accomplishments, Bowie’s artistry and wisdom influenced countless artists during his 40-plus years in music. Having worked with everyone from Mick Jagger to Iggy Pop and even writing songs like “Fame” with John Lennon, his genius is cemented into the DNA of rock-n-roll in ways that will continue to reveal themselves for years to come.
Bowie’s first hit was 1969’s self titled album, later renamed Space Oddity (which included the single of the same name). It was followed by 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, where his androgynous look on the cover of the album made him an instant stand out a the time when rockstars selling records were bands like the Rolling Stones who embodied typical male sexuality. To have someone like Bowie do the opposite was unheard of.
In 1972, Bowie came out as a bisexual. Allowing people to know his true self freed Bowie from any sort of artistic restriction which lead to the creation of his science fiction character Ziggy Stardust and one of the most famous pictures in rock-n-roll, the lighting bolt against painted across his face with no eyebrows. This move skyrocketed Bowie’s fame, allowing him to sell a million copies of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. The sound on this album started a new heavier movement for the bands to come after and bands like Mott the Hoople were able to make the music that they wanted which helped lay the groundwork for what we now call heavy metal. Bowie is never credited at all for any of this except for excerpts buried in textbooks on the history of rock.
Bowie’s influence also rubbed off on people like Iggy Pop, who took his advice on how to revamp his career which ultimately gave us albums like Raw Power, which the two co-produced. This all happened because Bowie had convinced the Michigan-bred rocker to reform the band with his legendary proto punk band the Stooges. Later, Bowie would produce Pop’s solo tracks like “Dum Dum Boys” and “China Girl.”
Bowie didn’t stop there. He also helped Lou Reed make his decisions as to what he should do after the Velvet Underground, Bowie encouraged him to go solo and today Lou Reed is featured in literary text books for his lyrical poetry.
Bowie’s influence surged through the ‘80s. Always reinventing himself, he put out albums like Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and one of his most famous albums, Let’s Dance, which featured guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. Not only did Bowie put out amazing music in the ‘80s, he also started acting in such huge cult films like Labyrinth which is still exalted today as one of the best movies of all time.
The pop icon will also be remembered for being open about the different mental health issues that his family had struggled with, why his dilated left eye was a different color (the result of childhood friend George Underwood punching him during a fight over a girl), and what he felt about what the world was coming too in various periods of rock history. Even though Bowie was struggling with cancer the past two years he still put out two albums, 2013’s The Next Day and of course his newest offering Blackstar. What David Bowie has accomplished is forever stamped across music and film history and will never be forgotten.