David Bowie: Cultural Catalyst

In a seminal 1973 television interview with a provocative Russell Harty, Bowie was asked, ‘Do you indulge in any form of worship?’ he answered ‘Life, I love life very much indeed’. Bowie’s worship of life defined his eclectic being and colossal creative output. Born David Jones, he transfigured into David Bowie and left a mark on people personally and on society as a whole. It is not often you can claim that a single person is the pioneer for change in music, fashion, politics, popular culture, alternative culture, the list can go on.

Bowie was of course, a singer primarily by definition, but he was also an undisputed cultural innovator. I distinctly remember hearing the Life On Mars for the first time when I was 14, and from that moment on I was a fan. I listened to the song until it was dawn, the next day I followed my parents around the town centre never taking my headphones out once. I had never heard anything like it before. Bowie’s career was so much more than rock and roll, he made successful forays into soul, funk, R’n’B, electronic, folk, pop and many more genres. My favourite song is Life On Mars, as it was a gateway to the wonderful world of Bowie. For me it was never just about the music; it was also about the literature, film, art, fashion and culture that his work introduced me to. He provided me with influences that still define me today, aesthetically and intellectually. My favourite album? It entirely depends on the day, a notion that is a testament to the variety and eminence of his work.

The prodigious thing about his death was the outpouring of personal emotion and reflection; the recurring theme is that Bowie often served as a trigger or an accompaniment to a personal milestone. His universal appeal transcends age: both of the audience listening and the decade that his work was produced in. His last album was heralded as a renaissance, but in subversive Bowie style, it was actually an epitaph. ‘Blackstar’ was his first album not to bear his face on the sleeve; it is a fitting final flourish for the transcending figure of culture. David Bowie’s enduring legacy can be surmised in two ways: he was undisputedly a cultural catalyst, but for many people, myself included, he was a personal catalyst too.

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