Illustration by Dave McCaig
My feelings about David Bowie aren't unique. I've seen them echoed in every article eulogizing the late rock 'n' roll workhorse/genius. I was going to compare his career to Picasso's, but Nile Rodgers did that in the Fader yesterday.
David Bowie was like the queer Beatles. His appeal spanned music subcultures. If someone liked Bowie, you knew they were cool with queer culture, sex, stylishness. When my friend Thomas Morton was 13 he touched Bowie's hand after an early morning show in Georgia and then sold sniffs of his Bowie hand to the girls at his school. Who else could he have done this with? Maybe Morrissey, but it's a short list.
In high school, Bowie inspired me to really lean hard into my feminine glam style. Through Bowie, I discovered gender as a fluid concept. I would wander around my school, which I saw as brutal and jockish, with baby blue nail polish, chokers, lip gloss, and clothing items that girls had given me. I was never a macho guy, but Bowie's existence seemed to be an affirmation that there was no shame in exploring different aspects of yourself through changing your appearance.
To me, Bowie's music has always been good and often great, but it's dwarfed by the personality he presented and the invented personas he adopted for his concept records. He embraced rock 'n' roll as a form of theater more than anyone else. I never felt like I knew David Bowie, but I liked the things he made.
I draw and I know other people who draw so we've chosen to honor Bowie's passing in the way most natural to us. I've assembled a collection of 20 portraits of the Thin White Duke below.
David Bowie's birthday was last week. We were born on the same day. I have always loved Bowie. His innovativeness and creativity was truly something special. He was an inspiration in so many ways. Everything he did, and everything he was about is beyond cool to me. Always and forever.
The way Bowie realized concepts through music, visuals, and performance has always been a tremendous influence to me. I tried to capture what a dynamic and multidimensional artist, and person, he was through this piece.
David Bowie made weird acceptable for me. I first learned about Bowie from the movie Labyrinth , which I saw when I was a kid. I remember doing some research about his music. His lyrics are the part I appreciate the most: "You're watching yourself, but you're too unfair / You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care." That's from my favorite song, "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." I made that drawing in February 2015.
Labyrinth was the first time I became aware of David Bowie and probably the concept of a rock star. The call-and-response in "Magic Dance" between Bowie and a horde of goblin puppets blew my mind as an impressionable five-year-old. It was an amazing jumping-off point into a timeless catalog of life-changing music and art.
I drew from "Life on Mars?," one of my favorite Bowie songs. I've just always loved those lyrics. Is there life on Mars? Yes. And now we know...
"TVC-15" was always one of my favorite Bowie songs, not because it's really about anything, but it captured this particular frantic feeling. It's from Station to Station, Bowie's LA album, recorded in a dark, cocaine-fueled blur, when he was living in "a state of psychic terror," surrounded by the occult, eating nothing but red peppers and milk, and in constant fear of Jimmy Page. He later said about LA, "The fucking place should be wiped off the face of the Earth." Station to Station is a beautiful piece of art, made from so much strange and negative energy. I can't think of anyone else who could do that as well as David Bowie.
I think a part of why he is so universally loved is because there's a Bowie for everyone. He did so much with his time on the planet, it's hard to narrow down even a favorite decade of his work. He's the patron saint of the different, a god of creativity. We are all very lucky to have shared time with him.
I did a lot of cocaine and listened to Station to Station and Low on repeat in order to draw this.
It's easy to look at Bowie as someone who did everything right. He got his shit stuff out of the way early on, when no one was paying attention. He produced an incredible body of work and only slowed down in the last decade so he could spend time with his beautiful wife and daughter. Then, when he died, he created one last album to sew a perfect button on the whole thing. The course of his life is defined by the 27 records he left behind.
Here's the thing: That was never the plan. Bowie trained as an actor. In the 70s he would say that he had so many ideas for movies, so much potential in that field, that he never thought he'd purely be defined by his career as a rock musician. David Bowie the musician would have been David Bowie the actor/director. He was supposed to spend the 80s making films and starring in them. I'm picturing Jodorowsky, Lynch, Kubrick, Chaplin, and Busby Berkley rolled into one. It never panned out, however.
Not even Bowie got to accomplish everything he wanted to do in his lifetime. There's a lot to take from that. Don't worry about the discrepancy between the world where you thought you'd be and the world where you are. Bowie knew that only one of those worlds was real, and to live in it was enough.
David Bowie taught us how to be. Searching, inquisitive, open, compassionate, curious, provocative, and challenging. Looking back on his life as a whole, though, he taught us how to be.
This drawing was inspired by the NPR interview, in which Bowie talked about "the so-called 'gender-bending,' the picking up of maybe aspects of the avant-garde, and aspects, for me personally, things like the Kabuki theater in Japan, and German expressionist movies, and poetry by Baudelaire, and it's so long ago now— everything from Presley to Edith Piaf went into this mix of this hybridization, this pluralism about what, in fact, rock music was and could become."
It's hard to say something about David Bowie that hasn't already been said. Maybe that fact speaks to a profound impact that was so singular in spite of a multitude of personas and styles of being that Bowie presented. This particular piece is inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth. My first real encounter with David Bowie was through this film. The film speaks to intense isolation and secret (alien) identities. Alien and weird are synonymous, and both are identities Bowie embraced and propagated. I don't really know what it would be like to grow up "weird" without Bowie and his influence on our culture. In a very real way he made "that's fucking weird" into "that's fucking cool." Something I'm grateful for.
I'm still pretty saddened by the death of David Bowie. His music was a big part of my teen years, and I continued to follow him much later in life. He and others, like the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed, provided the soundtrack to my teen years; I feel pretty lucky about that. He still captivated me much later into my 40s even, and I have most of his later records. The last one I bought was called Hours... and it was pretty disappointing. Not much into his side projects, such as Tin Machine, either. He is a real touchstone, and will always be bigger than the music alone. Hard to believe a twee guy like him deflowered Lori Maddox.
I've always connected to Bowie's music and continual evolution in his art and expression. It connects from the heart and the mind. When I heard the news in the middle of the night, I couldn't sleep anymore and I got up to paint this piece.
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