Commentary

David Bowie, Master Of Branding And Reinvention, Dies

After a very private 18-month battle with cancer and just a couple of days after the release of an acclaimed 25th album, “Blackstar,” on his 69th birthday, David Bowie “died peacefully [Sunday night] surrounded by his family,” according to a post on his Facebook page. 

“He didn't just push the edge of the envelope. He often manufactured the envelope itself,” writes Alex Johnson for NBC News, “with such creations as glam rock and Ziggy Stardust, the otherworldly representative of extraterrestrials; the post-apocalyptic Thin White Duke of the mid-1970s; and cutting-edge explorations into dance music (“Let's Dance,” 1983), European electronic music and even guitar-driven speed metal (the poorly received band Tin Machine, which he fronted in the late 1980s).”

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While admitting that he has a “catalog so rich with essential material, that no two top 20 lists would be the same,” The Arizona Republic’s Ed Masley has compiled a list of Bowie’s Top 20 hits for USA Today. “His songs invite that sort of personal relationship that makes the thought of critical consensus seem unlikely if not altogether pointless,” he writes.

Bowie “took his chameleon-like gift for transformation from vinyl to the silver screen,” in movies such as “Labyrinth” and “The Man Who Fell From Earth,” writes Ethan Sacks for the New York Daily News. “Unfortunately, that presence, which could fluctuate from larger-than-life to deft subtlety was underutilized in film.” 

“Bowie, leaping into roles as diverse as Pontius Pilate and Andy Warhol, lent any movie — no matter how ridiculous — a certain glamour,” writes Justin Wm. Moyer for the Washington Post.

“News of Bowie's death made waves throughout Hollywood, and musicians like Iggy Pop, Gene Simmons, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams took to social media to mourn the music legend,” writes Zach Johnson for E. “Other celebrities who had been touched by his music, including retired soccer player David Beckham, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Golden Globe winner Kate Hudson, expressed their grief as well.”

“Bowie, born David Jones in post-war Brixton, south London, kicked off his music career in the R&B boom of the early Sixties,” report Caitlin McBride, Garreth Murphy and Brian O’Reilly for the Irish Independent, first hitting the charts with “Space Oddity” in 1969.

“Bowie's first musical instrument was the saxophone, and he became a fan of early rock by Little Richard, Fats Domino and Frankie Lymon,” write Steve Appleford and Matt Hamilton for the Los Angeles Times. “In the mid-1960s, he began recording folk and pop music with various units and for a variety of labels. He changed his name to David Bowie in 1966 (largely to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees), and started dabbling in theater.”

He “made a habit of confounding the critics — killing off his most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust, at the height of his fame — and reinventing himself in roles including glam rocker, soul singer and hippie songwriter,” write McBride, Murphy and O’Reilly .

David Bowie Is, a touring retrospective of his career organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in partnership with Gucci and with sound by Sennheiser, was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago through last January and is currently at the Groninger Museum in The Netherlands. It “[explores] the broad range of Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film,” according to its online catalog.

“Curators of the show found plenty of fascinating stuff in Bowie's archives, from the framed Little Richard photo kept by young Davy Jones to the drawings the made as a youth of coordinated outfits to be worn by bands he hoped to form. Even at the outset, it seems, he had a showman's instinct for image creation,” the Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore wrote in a so-so review of a 94-minute documentary film that was released at the same time.

Bowie is survived by two children — film director Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones from his first marriage to Angela Bowie, and Alexandria “Lexi” Zahra Jones, from his relationship with Iman, a former model he married in 1992.

In an interview with Ella Alexander for The Independent (U.K.) in June 2014, Iman said: “I fell in love with David Jones. I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona. He's a singer, an entertainer. David Jones is a man I met.”

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