David Bowie: King of the Freakies

Ground control to Major Tom…there IS someone out there, and it’s Bowie himself! Today may be his birthday (happy 66th!) but he’s the one gifting us, with a new single–the introspective “Where Are We Now?”–as well as the announcement of his first new studio album in 10 years.

Happy birthday, indeed!

But as much as I profess to love David Bowie (and I do! I really do!) I realized today, as I was telling everyone how excited I was about the above news, that I don’t actually know his music all that well. Of course I know “Suffragette City”–everyone knows “Suffragette City,” except maybe the guys at Jellyrolls, apparently–and “Changes” and “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars” and “Ziggy Stardust” and “Fame,” but to call myself a real fan I need to have some real knowledge and familiarity with his entire catalog.

Being the musical late bloomer that I am, I know I have a lot of major holes in my musical knowledge, particularly in music that happened before 1998 (aka most music in human history). I am trying my hardest to catch up, but there are only so many music-listening hours in a day and there is always new music to draw my attention away from the classics.

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.”

I was first introduced to Bowie through the “Diamond Dogs” cover on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, but it wasn’t until college that I began to look back through his extensive catalog and discovered the post-industrial glam mystique he basically invented by doing his thing without regard to labels or what other people had done before.

As I listened to his new song, I realized that my interest in him has as much, if not more, to do with all that Bowie-ness than with his actual music. Sure, I have listened to various versions of his greatest hits over the years, but this morning I realized I don’t know all that much much about his musical progression and I certainly haven’t listened to every album. So today I set out to listen to every Bowie studio album. In order. Straight through.

I made it about halfway through Young Americans today, and I felt like it was just starting to get really good. Hunky Dory, his fourth album, is when I really started to hear flashes of the Bowie we all know and love, and that he seems to have perfected on The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. What I did realize is this: his music is not as weird as his persona suggests. He’s not a gimmick–he’s a musician. A great one, at that.

As proof, here is his new single:

The song is a poignant reflection on his Berlin period (from Low to Heroes, on tomorrow’s queue) but I mean this video is just WEIRD. That’s what I love about him.

I firmly believe weirdness is the best possible quality a musician can have–as long as it’s not weird for weirdness’ sake. Bowie’s the weirdest dude around. Sometimes he paints his face or wears a bodysuit (or used to), but sometimes he just wears a suit and acts like a normal human being who happens to sing songs for a living, songs he enjoys performing and really believes. See his incredible duet with Bing Crosby for an example of this.

Flight of the Conchords, who owe a great deal to Bowie for basically inventing the weirdo musician thing, offer perhaps the most fitting tribute to his freakiness in the amazing episode “Bowie.” In the episode, Bret’s having self-esteem issues but comforts himself with the idea that another awesome musician and human being, Bowie, maybe also suffered from confidence issues. Here’s the song “Bowie’s in Space,” a perfect parody and celebration of The Man Who Sold the World:

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