On Bowie

~ my David Bowie playlist.

Bowie was a rock star. David Bowie (1947-2016) {RIP} was a legend. In a life in music spanning for over five decades of brilliant works, varied, bombastic and esoteric and strange and c o o l, altogether sublime – across genres, through supporting bands, cycling along his many, many personas – Bowie was a god. Though he is gone, he is immortalized.

~ Bowie through the ages
“Ziggy played guitar.”

From Brixton, London, England, David Jones was born at the midpoint of the 20th century and took part in some of its more integral cultural moments during his career – especially at his transcendent start in {arguably} the best decade for music in human history ~ the 1970s. Bowie launched his career at the height of the countercultural movement in the late 1960s, alongside the civil rights movement and the space race; this period altogether signaled the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism. His prime carried through the course of the 1970s, Ziggy Stardust becoming a consummate, precisely postmodern, icon for the decade — a talented, striving, starving artist trying desperately to fit into the mold of the world and what it defined as ‘successful.’ With Ziggy, Bowie created a story about an alien attempting to understand and intervene in human culture by becoming a rockstar, the most visible x valuable of icons for that novel era. It was also a story about himself. 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a meta-album: an album about the album that this alien rockstar, Ziggy, makes in order to save the world. At the same time, this album would explode Bowie into new echelons of renown, into his own stardom. During this popular saga, Bowie dressed up as his alien persona, Ziggy — who himself, within the fiction of the album, is behaving as he thinks an Earthling rockstar might. Bowie sings as he thinks an alien might sing to the people of another planet, of hope and change and embracing your weirdness — at the same time, Bowie sings this altered self to the world, speaking of his own singular experiences thus far in his life — as a young musician, as a striving star, as an alien. It just doesn’t get anymore brilliantly postmodern – meta, self-consciously sincere yet still strange, altogether avant garde yet still popular — than this.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album artwork

Reflective of his strive unto stardom versus his innate introversion, his transformation into manifold characters throughout his career, as an artistic extension of his performance, spawned perhaps from this constant conflict between his desires and his nature. Bowie said of his characters that they were masks he could wear, guises he could find the courage within in order to perform on stage with — and do things he himself would never dare. From psychedelic spaceman Major Tom in 1969 to alien rockstar sexgod Ziggy Stardust in 1972, to his cousin, the war-traumatized American Aladdin Sane in 1973 and his spiritual, dystopian-grizzled, ‘punished’ successor rogue in Halloween Jack in 1974, and onward through to the torturously villainous ‘The Thin White Duke‘ in ’76 and Pierrot in ’80, a return to his classically-trained miming roots, and then to Jareth, the Goblin King in the ’86 film Labyrinth and finally to “Button Eyes“, The Blind Prophet, in his final performances on Blackstar in 2016, for his 25th! studio album — every character reps the disparate, chameleonic chapters of Bowie’s storied career, grounding them to such magnetic personalities, and looks.

I got: Halloween Jack. Sick!

I discovered and became a superfan of Bowie’s music primarily in the last two years, as I dove into the legend in order to experience the phenomena for myself. What I found within these glam/art/pop rock operas were fantastical, sometimes aspirational, sometimes dystopian visions from a man anxious as much from his own possibilities as from the existential dangers of the world around him. Through his music, Bowie sends messages from his own inner world, singular but humane, always relatable — and also deciphers them, from the culture of the moment as only he could see it; in his creations, he simultaneously delves his own shadow and the nature of the changing reality of which he was taking part in, and then invites the audience to do the same. Having listened to each of his albums over and over, analyzing their enlightening lyrics, letting the shredding guitars, thrumming basslines, and subtle saxophones and synths wash over me, one begins to learn the language of Bowie.

In my solitary and quite humble opinion, Bowie’s power comes from his life, that of a visionary dreamer who wrestled with demons both worldly and philosophical; his music, insofar that it rocks and gets one moving, or moved to tears, reverberates as the genius artist’s own exploration of his shadow mirrored onto the listener keen enough to observe it and take it in. In these albums and the embodied characters he crafted and his lifelong quest for self-actualization {and who is to say he didn’t get as close as anyone}, he converted his shadow into light ~ brought his ‘inside to the outside.’ The slices of the human condition that he enamored himself unto ~ artistry, musicianship, obsession, stardom, addiction, marriage, fatherhood, personal kindness and authenticity and compassion for fans – and for *outsiders* everywhere — even as he became a global icon ~ are transmuted into impassioned expressions dealing in such struggles, comprehendible through notes and lyrics, sounds and visions.

Putting it aptly, longtime collaborator with Bowie, Brian Eno, said of his work:

“All of his songs are little plays. And he is playwright and actor.”

Honoring him with my playlist here, I wanted to present some of my favorite, most memorable, more affecting entries from Bowie’s wide-ranging catalogue of music, across decades and generations from my parent’s time all the way up to mine, with my own commentary on what they mean to me. Now, let us turn and face the strange!

My Bowie playlist {on Spotify}: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3MTz4SexQ7TSz6GfslL9nW?si=k2ji0UANRbeyRqI0EycJYQ

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3MTz4SexQ7TSz6GfslL9nW?si=k2ji0UANRbeyRqI0EycJYQ

~ David Bowie – When I Live My Dream ~
Baby, I’ll slay a dragon for you
Or banish wicked giants from the land
But you will find, that nothing in my dream can hurt you
We will only love each other as forever

Bowie’s first album in 1967 represents his first attempt to grasp a sound and a vision for what his music might sound like, as well as what he might appear like as an artist, i.e. himself. Mired within the mod culture and fashion of the 1960s, a young 20-year old David Jones had taken on the name ‘Davy Jones’ for the start of his career, but due to confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees and originated from a strange fascination with Texas history legend Jim Bowie (BOO-ee) – he changed it to David Bowie (BOW-ee). His first album, while being outshined by pretty much every album he released afterward, does a fine job showcasing what young Dave Jones was interested in: dreams, young love, the fantasies and terrors of a world he could envision but could not live within.

As a counterpart to “When I Live My Dream“‘s wispy dreamlike tone, the song that precedes it on the album — “We Are Hungry Men” — deals in themes and concepts that are more familiar in Bowie’s future works – messianic god-complexes, systemic terrors, the possibility of human extinction 🙂

~ David Bowie – We Are Hungry Men ~
My studies include exophagy
I formed my own society
To crush the power of fecundity
The world will overpopulate
Unless you claim infertility
So who will buy a drink for me, your Messiah
Space Oddity (1969) album artwork

Space Oddity” being the song that put Bowie on the map, no playlist of his music could possibly be complete without it. It is here that the 22-year old more confidently ascertained his telos as an artist ~ to strive unto the stars themselves. Inspired by his love of science fiction {read Heinlein’s Starman Jones as a boy}, Bowie had a hit. And he was also nimble enough to coincide its release, caping for his new album set to be released the following year in 1969, alongside the release of the film after which it was titled {and could definitely ride the coattails of given the world’s recent fascination with space!} – Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968.

~ Space Oddity ~
This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

The song tells a story of awe mixed with fear at the prospect of being in space, as a lone man in a “tin can.” As astronaut Major Tom, the first principal character within Bowie’s mythos, sees the Earth from space, a big blue orb onto which all his own hopes, dreams and loves are contained as a member of the human race, he experiences both an unmatched, nearly overwhelming sense of metaphysical awe, for the species, perhaps selflessly for the mythic quest of continuous existence and progress that allowed for him to eventually be floating there – and also – selfishly, quite aware of his precarious position suddenly, the fear of losing it all as a solitary figure in this dangerous new frontier of space, only ever moments away from total annihilation within such a void… And thusly, Bowie’s art is borne – an exploration of the shadow within the light, the fraught combination of hope and despair within this mortal coil in all times of extremis.

~ The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud ~
Staring through the message in his eyes
Lies a solitary son
From the mountain called Freecloud
Where the eagle dare not fly
And the patience in his sigh
Gives no indication
For the townsmen to decide
So the village dreadful yawns
Pronouncing gross diversion
As the label for the dog
Oh, “It’s the madness in his eyes”
As he breaks the night to cry:

If “Space Oddity” is Bowie’s science fiction story, then “The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud” is his fantasy story to tell. About a boy who holds the secret, mystic lore of speaking with mountains and is made an outsider because of it, it is a reflection of Bowie’s own story. The song, like practically all of them, touches on Bowie’s life experiences as an outsider, an outcast, an exile from the center of things, where the bulk traversed in relative comfort. Bowie’s social, psychological, and spiritual alienations will come to dominate the content of his entire catalogue. This song, from his integral sophomore album, is one of my all-time favorites.

Bowie himself said of the song {The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud}: “It was about the disassociated, the ones who feel as though they’re left outside, which was how I felt about me. I always felt I was on the edge of events, the fringe of things, and left out. A lot of my characters in those early years seem to revolve around that feeling. It must have come from my own interior puzzlement at where I was”

~ The Width of a Circle ~
In the corner of the morning in the past
I would sit and blame the master first and last
All the roads were straight and narrow
And the prayers were small and yellow
And the rumour spread that I was aging fast
Then I ran across a monster who was sleeping by a tree
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me

The Man Who Sold The World (1970) is known as the ‘first true Bowie album’ and it’s easy to understand why ~ it is a wild ride, spanning genres and styles, art rock with a glammy surface and a heavy, meaty center. This is to be his cornerstone from here on as a creator and an artist, though each time reinvented for new roles, new purposes; each album a separate vision, myriad in its possibilities and depths, the creation of music as more than music — as a holistic, artistic experiencing of Bowie himself, as he evolved. “The Width of a Circle” and “The Man Who Sold the World” as the relative bookends of the album present surreal visions, more odd tales from Bowie’s mindscape: a love affair between a celestial being and the devil, and a traveling nomad who ‘sold the world’, whether that be his soul or the really-functioning control over the global apparatus of nations and economies, is up to the listener.. Each are bombastic, dark journeys into the psyche, Bowie’s first forays into true rock-n-roll.

~ The Man Who Sold the World ~
I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home

I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed

I gazed a gazeless stare
At all the millions here
We must have died alone
A long long time ago

“The Man Who Sold the World” is the 8th track of the 1970 David Bowie album by the same name. When asked about the meaning of the song, Bowie commented:

I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there’s some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.”

The song was most famously covered by Nirvana in 1993 at their MTV Unplugged session.

~ Changes ~
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence and

So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Hunky Dory (1971) features some of Bowie’s most iconic, culturally-shifting songs to this day: “Changes” and “Life on Mars?” Androgynous, thinly angular, often long-haired and beautiful to the point of potentially spriting a near-distance onlooker’s confusion as to what his true gender might be, a young Bowie – who would later come out as gay, then bisexual, then back again, amidst a combination of media speculation alongside his own confusions as to his true sexuality – was always this speaker from the outside, from the fringes of the social sphere, sexuality acknowledged or not. Mind you, the spheres of sexuality along a spectrum were constantly present {LGBTQ+ persons have *always* existed within humanity} but rarely spoken of until such times as Bowie found himself working as an artist. Thus, he naturally became an icon for LGBTQ+ persons out there, and for the wider population’s embrace of such persons. And it is his voice, in these two songs especially, that shines as truly empowering to those staking their own perhaps lonely claims as outsiders, as lovers and artists transcending the norms, as the next generation of children “quite aware of what they’re going through” and absolutely through with the “saddening bore” of this current generation, this reality, this world. A worldly one understands, in the end it is them, just like Bowie, that will shape the next ones.

~ Life On Mars? ~
Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh, man, look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy

Oh, man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show

Is there life on Mars?

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) is perhaps Bowie’s best known album — for good reason, as it introduces his most fully fleshed out rogue within his entire gallery: Ziggy Stardust.

The entire album, as its name suggests, plots out the entire saga of Ziggy — an alien from outer space — and his quest to gain the favor of humanity, for the sake of saving them from their own annihilation in half a decade, through the power of rock-n-roll and stardom! Ziggy’s arc ends up being that of any great human being’s — aware of the problems, and their chance, pathing through hope, ambition, the rising successes and eventual stardom captured and renown gained, and then – the decadence and corruption and despair that comes as one crests over their moment and begins their inevitable descent… Ziggy’s complex insight comes in his outsider status — as an alien carrying the hidden knowledge of the Earth’s impending doom — by seeing them from above it all {and as eventual fans of his rocking shows} he is able to see what makes humanity great, what makes them worth saving. In the end, like many rock stars and great musicians of the age (late 60s, early 70s), Ziggy burns out like a supernova, rising fast and hard — saving people with the power of his music — but destroying himself in the process, in the inevitable devolution that takes place from his position at the top, as a star. “Five Years” sets the stage for Ziggy’s arrival upon Earth; “Starman” sends us into the minds of the people as they wonder and wish unto the ‘star’ that is Ziggy, hoping against hope that he might come down and give them something from beyond… Ziggy abides them, eventually with his life itself.

The album, as good as any other he ever made, displays the full range of Bowie’s musicianship, lyricism, and extremity — hard rock-n-roll to soft and soulful ballads. An integral glam rock album meant to be played as maximum volume, one critic spoke of Ziggy Stardust as reflecting and shaping “its time and its audience like no other album.”

After his tour in the year of the album’s release, Bowie never donned the outfits or makeup that embodied the character ever again, retiring Ziggy from all future shows.

~ Five Years ~
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there

And all the fat, skinny people
And all the tall, short people
And all the nobody people
And all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people

Bowie himself on Ziggy:

In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1974, Bowie described the significance of the “five years” mentioned in the song in his Ziggy mythos:

The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.

~

In the album’s story, the Earth is saved by the rock n’ roll messiah, Ziggy Stardust, with only five years to survive. He wins the hearts of teens, scares parents, seduces everyone in his path, and eventually dies a victim of his own fame. According to Bowie, he “takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples“. During the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, the infinites (extraterrestrials) arrive, and tear Ziggy Stardust to pieces on stage.

~

“I had a passion for the idea of the rock star as a meteor…The whole idea of the Who’s line: ‘Hope I die before I get old.’ At that youthful age, you cannot believe that you’ll lose the ability to be this enthusiastic and all-knowing about the world, life and experience. You think you’ve probably discovered all the secrets to life. “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” was a declaration of the end of the effect of being young.”

– David Bowie discussing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”
~ Starman ~
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile

He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
~ Lady Grinning Soul ~
She’ll come, she’ll go
She’ll lay belief on you
But she won’t stake her life on you
How can life become her point of view

Bowie’s follow up album went in a completely different direction, more avant-garde, all over the map in terms of concept, and with a character that Bowie called Ziggy’s “American cousin” ~ Aladdin Sane, or ‘A Lad Insane’, a returning combat veteran from Vietnam. The final track on the album, “Lady Grinning Soul” reminds me so much of a Bond song, or the theme to a succubus’ arrival upon the scene of the world: sensual, mysterious, dangerous. Unique to Bowie’s catalogue, it presents a cascading piano with surrounding orchestration that nearly builds a world all its own. Incredible.

Bowie said of the final track on Aladdin Sane (1973):

“A song will put you tantalisingly close to the past, so close that you can almost reach out and touch it. The sound of ghosts again.”

Diamond Dogs (1974) album artwork!

Diamond Dogs (1974) carried the components of Bowie’s stymied compulsion to adapt a concept album from George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. Start to finish, I think it’s one of his better albums, a couple of tracks {beyond his smash hit “Rebel Rebel“} — dealing directly with the dystopian terror-state source material — intrigue me most of all. Back to back near the conclusion of the album: “1984” and “Big Brother” deal with the degradation of human civilization and its totalizing answer to look through the darkness with — a turn to a King, Father, Tyrant Strongman figure to save us from ourselves. Lyrics aside {terrifying!}, each track is a bopping tune that one can dance the day away to, with blasting drums, full rising crescendos of sound and booming vocal force. I love the theatrics to the sound throughout this album! RIP to Bowie’s 1984 musical that never was, I am relatively certain it would have been insanely good!! The core of Bowie’s message on Diamond Dogs, in his analysis of 1984: Even if we won’t admit it, we ALL want a Big Brother to claim us, to follow, to shame us, a brave Apollo, someone to fool us, someone… like {God}… And the results can be terrible.

~ 1984 ~
They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air
And tell that you’re eighty, but brother, you won’t care

You’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s neverthere
Beware the savage jaw of 1984
~ Big Brother ~
[Bridge]
Please saviour, saviour, show us
Hear me, I’m graphically yours

[Chorus]
Someone to claim us, someone to follow
Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo
Someone to fool us, someone like you

We want you Big Brother, Big Brother
~ Fame ~
Fame, (fame) makes a man take things over
Fame, (fame) lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, (fame) puts you there where things are hollow
Fame (fame)

Young Americans (1975) presents another transformation for Bowie, of many more to come, wherein he transitions from rock to soul, R&B, funk. “Fame“, with its bass-driven funky sound, spacy and sudden, became the most famous song of this album of solid beats. In it, Bowie speaks from the heart of the ills and pitfalls of renown concerning his previous rise to rock stardom. His almost instant decision to step away from it {e.g. Ziggy} and continue experimenting and progressing his sound into new directions is perhaps a reflection of his aversion to real ‘fame’ for its own sake. I think Bowie transformed himself and his music continuously, not as a gimmick or a way to run from his stardom {though that may have played a part}, but as a real instinctual compulsion toward making the art he wanted to make.

Bowie’s Thin White Duke persona, smoking a Gitanes cigarette, 1976.

Station to Station (1976) might be my favorite overall Bowie album, it certainly contains what is {probably!} my favorite track: “Station to Station.” Dark and full of existential despair and slick beats, ominous pianos, lyrics that dig away at every facet of the human condition – yep, that’s it. Every song is perfect but I’ll pick two.

~ Station to Station ~
It’s too late to be grateful
It’s too late to be late again
It’s too late to be hateful
The European canon is near

The Thin White Duke, Bowie’s darkest, most potentially nefarious and tortured character {given his 1976-era unhealthy lifestyle, mostly consisting of cocaine}, belts out with desperation of being “too late” to save himself, the world. Captured within these 10 minutes and inside these lyrics is an incredible encapsulation of Bowie’s entire canon:

David Bowie was painfully and intimately aware of the tension between the desire to experience deep feelings and the desire to attain cold safety–frequently by being an alien, outside, and aloof. Arguably that kind of tension lies close to the center of addictive behaviors, and it’s no coincidence that this song was written in the height of Bowie’s cocaine use.

Imagery conveying this struggle abounds–he projects himself first as a cynical and callous god, then transitions in fits toward a passionate longing to escape the cold numbness of his detachment for the passion and ardor of true feelings. He is capable of ripping lovers apart, but behind that power he is desperate to be such a lover himself.

In the second part of the song he casts about for a solution to his problem–a person, a power, or just an attempt at bravado, anything to create even a glimmer of the true feelings he knows that others experience and he is afraid are dead inside of him.

The third part is the culmination of his tragedy–he desperately wants to convince himself that something has changed, and in his desperation to be somewhere and someone that he is not he once again shuts off any hope of achieving true connection with his feelings.

https://genius.com/David-bowie-station-to-station-lyrics

I really cannot put it any better myself. Emotion, exile, addiction, power, passion, connection. Everything. Station to Station itself is a reference to the Stations of the Cross that Jesus traversed, carrying his cross on his way to be crucified. Bowie’s delusions of grandeur as the evil god The Duke, full of dark charisma, hanging on the chaotic lifeline of his obsessions and passions, Bowie becomes more than willing to delve the darkest zones of this counterpart’s psyche — definitively The Shadow character within his mythos.

Carrying on with the theme of divinity and godhood, Bowie sings of Him and his own lifelong crisis with anything like true faith in a higher being, in “Word on a Wing“. Bowie struggles to find a reason to believe, to find some sort of existential foundation — a true “scheme of things” — to this existence. Who cannot relate to such a desire?

In Bowie’s own words, he admits that the song was written out of a coke-addled spiritual despair that he experienced while filming the movie The Man Who Fell To Earth.

In 1980 Bowie spoke of the song to NME, claiming:

There were days of such psychological terror when making the Roeg film that I nearly started to approach my reborn, born again thing. It was the first time I’d really seriously thought about Christ and God in any depth, and ‘Word on a Wing’ was a protection. It did come as a complete revolt against elements that I found in the film. The passion in the song was genuine… something I needed to produce from within myself to safeguard myself against some of the situations I felt were happening on the film set.

~ Word on a Wing ~
Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing
And I’m trying hard to fit among your scheme of things
It’s safer than a strange land, but I still care for myself
And I don’t stand in my own light
Lord, Lord, my prayer flies like a word on a wing
My prayer flies like a word on a wing
Does my prayer fit in with your scheme of things?
The Berlin Trilogy

Following the shadowy turn of Station to Station, Bowie paired with friend Brian Eno {Roxy Music} to create the ‘Berlin Trilogy‘ from 1977-1979 – making Low (1977), “Heroes” (1978), and Lodger (1979) in this time. Three strange albums, full of more ambience and strange synths than any of his previous work, they include an album of mostly instrumental work where Bowie waits to regain his muse in the “low”ness, perhaps Bowie’s most famous anthem in “Heroes“, and a strange run with Bowie as a radio DJ character. My three favorite songs from the Trilogy:

~ Sound and Vision ~
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision?
~ Heroes ~
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day

We can be heroes, just for one day
~ Fantastic Voyage ~
It’s a very modern world
But nobody’s perfect
It’s a moving world

But that’s no reason
To shoot some of those missiles
Think of us as fatherless scum

It won’t be forgotten
‘Cause we’ll never say anything nice again
Will we?
[Verse 2]
And the wrong words make you listen
In this criminal world
[Pre-Chorus 2]
Remember it’s true
Loyalty is valuable
But our lives are valuable too
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980) album artwork

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980) marks another extraordinary turn in Bowie’s continuous, chameleonic run as a mastermind in utter control of his craft – whatever he ever wanted it to be! Monsters starts with a Japanese speaker pre-translating his coming lyrics of silhouettes and revolutions, and ends with rage toward the world’s rather widespread, contemporary injustices and its unmoving powers toward their solutions. A weird and fascinating album, Bowie’s 1980 odyssey is, in my opinion, yet another perfect album. The droning, rage-filled call to action in “It’s No Game“, parts 1 and 2, is a compelling cap to the late 1970s regime of socioeconomic degradations; “Ashes to Ashes” is one of my favorite all-time Bowie songs, detailing the continued journey of spacefaring Major Tom, from all the way back in 1969, who is now “strung out in heaven’s high“, a drug addict, a cosmonaut left up in space to waste away, now a ghost story mothers tell their children. Bowie’s desperation reflects in the lyrics, wishing to do something, anything — good or bad — to break the ice and emerge from his obsessive haze. The chilling outro, of momma’s warning message unto Major Tom, haunts us all as his voice fades away…

~ It’s No Game (Part 1) ~
[Intro]
“1-2, 1-2-2”
Shiruetto ya kage ga kakumei o miteiru
Mo tengoku no giyu no kaidan wa nai


[Verse 1]
Silhouettes and shadows
Watch the revolution

No more free steps to heaven!
~ Ashes to Ashes ~
[Outro]
My mama said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom
My mama said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom
My mama said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom
My mama said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom
Let’s Dance (1983) album artwork

The remainder of the 1980s has Bowie making a nigh perfect electro beat-blasting dance album with R&B legend Niles Rodgers, in Let’s Dance (1983), and a pair of pop / soul records in Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) which Bowie himself looks back upon with a frown. The former is full of bangers, while the latter two have their nuggets:

~ Let’s Dance ~
[Verse 1]
(Let’s dance)
 put on your red shoes and dance the blues
(Let’s dance) to the song they’re playing on the radio
(Let’s sway) while colour lights up your face
(Let’s sway) sway through the crowd to an empty space
~ Loving the Alien ~
[Pre-Chorus]
But if you pray
All your sins are hooked upon the sky
Pray and the heathen lie will disappear

[Chorus 1]
Prayers they hide the saddest view
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers, they break the sky in two
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
~ Time Will Crawl ~
[Intro]
Time will crawl
[Verse 1]
I’ve never sailed on a sea
I would not challenge a giant
I could not take on the church
Time will crawl
‘Til the twenty-first century lose
I know a government man
He was as blind as the moon, and he—
He saw the sun in the night
He took a top-gun pilot and he—
He made him fly through a hole
‘Til he grew real old, and he—
And he never came down
He just flew till he burst

Moving with the times, Bowie crafts four more albums in the 1990s, each quite unique in their stylings — Black Tie White Noise (1993) ~ ambient electronica, house beats with soul| 1. Outside: The Nathan Adler Diaries: A Hyper-cycle (1995) ~ pairing with Eno again to create an industrial rock concept opera on the coming 21st century desolations | Earthling (1997) ~ more industrial rock with some drum and bass jungle and electro, adding to the alien mythos|Hours (1999) ~ a softer pop rock record to go with a cybernoir video game made by Quantic Dream, The Nomad Soul! Some hits, some misses — Bowie keeps swinging!

~ The Hearts Filthy Lesson ~
[Verse]
There’s always the Diamond friendly
Sitting in the Laugh Motel
The Heart’s filthy lesson
With her hundred miles to hell
~ I’m Afraid of Americans ~
Johnny’s in America
[Verse 2]
Johnny wants a plane, Johnny wants to suck on a Coke
Johnny wants a woman, Johnny wants to think of a joke
Johnny’s in America
~ Seven ~
[Chorus]
I got seven days to live my life
Or seven ways to die

In the new millennium, Bowie creates four albums, each increasing in force, power, meaningfulness, all the way until his masterful finale. Beginning with Heathen (2002), Bowie takes his time, goes lower — both in his vocal octaves, and in the subject matter under the depths, once more dealing with the degradation of society. The album art itself, grey, eerie, wrong – yet still beautiful – lends to this theme.

Heathen (2002) album artwork
~ Sunday ~
Look for the drifters
We should crawl under the bracken

Look for the shafts of light on the road
Where the heat goes

Everything has changed
For in truth it’s the beginning of nothing
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed
For in truth it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
Everything has changed

The next year, Bowie released Reality (2003), another spacy, ambient-based rock album with strange art and the classic Bowie philosophical aesthetic underneath it all — he said of the album name:

Bowie chose ‘Reality’ as the album title because, “I feel that reality has become an abstract for so many people over the last 20 years. Things that they regarded as truths seem to have just melted away, and it’s almost as if we’re thinking post-philosophically now. There’s nothing to rely on any more. No knowledge, only interpretation of those facts that we seem to be inundated with on a daily basis. Knowledge seems to have been left behind and there’s a sense that we are adrift at sea. There’s nothing more to hold on to, and of course political circumstances just push that boat further out.

~ Bowie on ‘Reality’ {effectively describing the world’s turn toward neoliberal-capitalistic, postmodernistic reality as its foundation, that is — an ethereal, unsustainable one…}
~ New Killer Star ~
[Verse 1]
See the great white scar
Over Battery Park
Then a flare glides over
But I won’t look at that scar

Oh, my nuclear baby
(We’ll discover a star)
Oh, my idiot trance
All my idiot questions
(Like the stars in your eyes)
Let’s face the music and dance

After ten years of studio album silence following Reality, Bowie released another stellar entry into his canon with The Next Day (2013). Essentially coming out of retirement, the album is full of Bowie callbacks, mixed with new strains of sound, high production-value music videos with big name actors and all variety of bloody strangenesses, along with refreshed cultural shibboleths to discuss {religious corruption, modern day vs. 1970s Berlin, school shooters, drugs and post-war traumas, returning to dancing among the stars}. In full, I’d call it another perfect Bowie album, every song makes the grade, all hits, no misses.

My personal favorite song from the album – “How Does The Grass Grow?” answers the strange question posited in the title with one of my favorite transgressive anti-war Bowie lyrics — “Blood, blood, blood!”

~ How Does The Grass Grow? ~
Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya
Where do the boys lie? Mud, mud, mud
How does the grass grow? Blood, blood, blood

Three years later, and just two days before his tragic death at the age of 69 from cancer, Bowie released his final masterpiece: Blackstar (2016). Longtime co-producer Tony Visconti described the album as Bowie’s intended swan song and a “parting gift” for his fans before his death. Rapper Kendrick Lamar, electronic duo Boards of Canada and experimental hip hop trio Death Grips were all cited as influences upon Bowie in the creation of the album. In it, Bowie crafts a dark mythology, full of jazzy tones and ghostly whispers; it is a work about death, and specifically, about his own coming demise. Bowie himself is the blackstar, a collapsing star on its way to becoming a black hole — in death, something now indefinable and indefinite, infinitely influencing.

Blackstar (2016) album artwork
A Blackstar is a transitional phase that is created when a collapsing star is close to reaching singularity, where the star’s influence becomes infinite and spacetime itself ceases to exist within it. Although the star at this point has died, it has been transformed into something else altogether and its energy will continue to be released indefinitely.
~ Blackstar ~
I’m a blackstar, way up, on money, I’ve got game
I see right, so wide, so open-hearted pain

I want eagles in my daydreams, diamonds in my eyes
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a star’s star, I’m a blackstar)

The song “Blackstar” is the final entry in Major Tom’s mythos {as can be seen in this spectacular and strange and utterly Bowie ^music video^}, and such as is theorized by this random Youtube commenter:

To me this is the storyline
1) Space Oddity
2) Starman
3) Ashes to Ashes
4) Hello Spaceboy
5) Blackstar

Here is the full story (a theory which we will never know the truth since starman has left)

1) Space Oddity:
Major Tom was a Astronaut who was sent on a basic mission to orbit the earth, something happened to his ship in which he had to perform a spacewalk to fix, during this he made a major error either intentionally or unintentionally he freaks out and tells ground control in which they try to help him he can’t so he becomes sad and goes through the stages of grief which starts with anger, he was angry at what happened so he said “This is major tom to ground control i really made the grade” meaning i really messed up and he went right to the depression stage where he says “Tell my wife i love here very much” ground control tries to tell him to calm down to where he went to acceptance “Here i am floating on my tin can far above the moon planet earth is blue and there’s nothing i can do” which states his space capsule went out of earth orbit and the began to drift off into space

2) Starman:
Major tom crash landed on a planet possibly Mars, where he tried to radio back but was never able to but he got music from radio station that he relaxed and listened to thinking of his plan to get back to earth or get off the planet. He possibly saw gods or aliens in space who he called a starman they began to talk to him helping him coupe with what was going on, He is told to look out the window to see earth and how close he could be and get back

3) Ashes to Ashes:
Major tom fixes his radio and radios ground control and this is a rumor floating in the command center, “I heard a rumor from ground control” possibly talking about a young worker who was a kid when Tom left earth. He fixed his radio only long enough to sa one sentence “Im Happy Hope you’re happy to” possibly stating that he is finally accented he will die in space, and ground control are sad hearing his voice knowing he is “Strung out in heavens high and reaching an all time low” Meaning he is happy but he is hitting a low because his health is deteriorating from being out in space for a long time years even.

4) Hello Space Boy:
Major tom left they planet but in doing so he possibly died due to sickness. He is floating away covered in moon dust possibly heading to another planet which leads to the end of his story, BlackStar

5) Blackstar:
Major toms body landed on a planet that has a small dwarf star as its sun this planet is tidally locked and is always in an eclipse at night. A race of alien beings find his body and take his skull and is worshiped as a god. His skull is covered in jewels for becoming a famous astronaut and now he is being worshipped as David Bowie is as he is the one and only starman He is major tom. Starting off so small as a regular music writer to his major fame and to his death where he is always going to be remembered as a musical god

~ Lazarus ~
Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

This way or no way
You know I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now, ain’t that just like me?
Oh, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Oh, I’ll be free
Ain’t that just like me?

Bowie serenades his own life and death in “Lazarus“, coming to terms with his ending by recounting his journey, expressing and transmuting it into an artful capstone ~ and letting the world listen along.

Dollar Days” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” culminate the album as well as Bowie’s finale, an acknowledgement of everything he gave as an artist, everything he tried to do {continuing on with this album itself} as well as everything he still had yet to give, or never would.

Blackstar is the ultimate swan song, the perfect good-bye, the most masterful encore of a life lived and died always as a star.

~ Dollar Days ~
I’m dying to
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again

I’m trying to
It’s all gone wrong but on and on
The bitter nerve ends never end
I’m falling down

Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying to
~ I Can’t Give Everything Away ~
I know something’s very wrong
The pulse returns the prodigal sons

The blackout hearts, the flowered news
With skull designs upon my shoes
[Chorus]
I can’t give everything
I can’t give everything away
I can’t give everything away

Who else will go out like Bowie? Who else possibly can?

Beyond all the characters, the stardom and the fandom surrounding him, the longevity of his career, or even its perfect finale ~ to me, Bowie and his music are special, forever vital, for the range of emotions that they resolved to play within. That is, ALL of them. You can listen to Bowie when you are happy or sad, angry or afraid, pensive, grieving, anxious, caught within an especially dire existential dread — or while high as a kite, in love or in various other altered states. Bowie’s mythos is profound yet still listenable, accessible to children and music enthusiasts alike. This is what separates him in my mind, from many other artists and bands and styles of music; when you capture it all – the human condition – beautifully so, across cultures and generations, then you necessarily become legend.

And so it was with the man who fell to earth. Bowie ~

Bowie’s perfect albums {imo}: The Man Who Sold The World (1970), Hunky Dory (1971), Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust (1972), Diamond Dogs (1974), Station to Station (1976), Low (1977), Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980), Let’s Dance (1983), The Next Day (2013), Blackstar (2016).
Aladdin Sane (1973)
Albert Watson photograph “David Bowie in Mirror, New York City, 1996,” previously unpublished.
David Bowie, Blackstar ~ Blackstar album review ~ Pitchfork
https://io9.gizmodo.com/all-the-ways-that-david-bowie-changed-our-lives-and-exp-1752290584 ~ What made Bowie so brilliant is how he understood that how simultaneously powerful and superficial being a rock star was—how his position as an icon was crafted not just by him, but by his fans who wanted to be saved. By literally performing as Ziggy, he turned the subtext of that artificiality into text. And, because he knew how essential, how inevitable it was for all messiahs to die, Bowie didn’t hesitate to kill his Ziggy persona when the time came.
https://io9.gizmodo.com/rip-david-bowie-the-musician-who-changed-science-ficti-1752187018 ~ Over time, Bowie seemed to be at war with his own rock stardom. After the Let’s Dance album reached a huge audience that was new to his music, there are lots of accounts of Bowie struggling with what to do with that new kind of pop stardom. The idea of being a “rock star” often seemed more foreign and bizarre than the notion of a glam-rock visitor from another planet.
David Bowie on Stardust
Bowie on creating: “push your boundaries
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/19/david-bowie-50-greatest-songs-ranked ~
3. Station to Station (1976)
By his own account so out of control he couldn’t even remember recording it, Bowie somehow contrived to make Station to Station a work of awesome power and focus, as evidenced by the lengthy title track. The shift into its second section – “Once there were mountains and mountains” – is possibly the single most thrilling moment in his entire catalogue.
2. Ashes to Ashes (1980)
Ashes to Ashes is one of those moments in Bowie’s catalogue where the correct response is to stand back and boggle in awe. Presumably a depiction of its author in his drugged-out mid-70s nadir, everything about it – lingering oddness of its sound, its constantly shifting melody and emotional tenor, its alternately self-mythologising and self-doubting lyrics – is perfect.
1. Sound and Vision (1977)
Picking Bowie’s 50 best songs is a thankless task. His back catalogue is so rich, you inevitably end up having to lose tracks every bit as good as those you have picked in the process: Queen Bitch, Suffragette City, Be My Wife, Dollar Days. Picking his best is even worse, but Sound and Vision is both a fantastic pop song and an act of artistic daring. A three-minute hit single that doesn’t even feature a lead vocal until halfway through, it twists a despondent lyric into something uplifting and, musically, transcends time. Completely original, nothing about its sound tethers it to the mid-70s. Its magic seems to sum Bowie up.
https://pitchfork.com/features/article/9787-anthems-for-the-moon-david-bowies-sci-fi-explorations/ ~ There are no aliens in “Space Oddity”—those beings would factor greatly in some of Bowie’s best-known work to come—but a devastating metaphysical awe underpins the song. Faced with the vastness of the cosmos, Major Tom laments in newfound futility, “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.” That ennui, bordering on paralysis, humanized astronauts in a way that NASA’s heroic sloganeering failed to do. As Bowie has noted, “The publicity image of the spaceman at work is of an automaton rather than a human being. My Major Tom is nothing if not a human being.”
https://tanjastark.com/2015/06/22/crashing-out-with-sylvian-david-bowie-carl-jung-and-the-unconscious/ ~ The haunting figure of an intubated, dystopian and alienated creature inhabiting ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (1980) world of religious, sci-fi and industrial imagery, singing of Major Tom’s trajectory like some perpetually unconsummated rapture is a poignant image in David Bowie’s oeuvre. No longer worldly, not quite heavenly, but suspended in some purgatorial cursed space in between, it is hypnotic, erotic and somewhat psychotic.
Yet contained within the cryptic layers of ‘Ashes to Ashes’, with its alluring convergence of iconography, symbols, sound and vision, lie essential thematic concerns that repeatedly permeate Bowie’s prodigious output and have intrinsic parallels with ideas in Jungian psychology; a profound engagement with the Unconscious, a complex relationship with the Numinous [i], tension between opposing polarities (the celestial and the chthonic, visceral and cerebral, sarx and pneuma [ii]) and the ongoing spectre of a shadow that threatens to overwhelm and displace the ordered surface reality.
Indeed, Jungian concepts are so inextricably woven throughout Bowie’s multi-decadal tableau of creativity that in Bowie’s synthesis of mythopoeic themes of the Unconscious with the zeitgeist of pop culture, together with his palpable struggle for meaning, catharsis and knowledge, Bowie has become a poignant contemporary representation of Jung’s ‘visionary artist’, potentially illuminating his deep resonance in popular cultural consciousness.
David Bowie poses for a portrait in 1976. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) ~ https://time.com/4180269/david-bowie-1947-2016/

~ 🌟 If you’re ever sad, just remember that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and you were here at the same time as David Bowie. 🌟 ~