Bowie: The star who fell to earth

David Bowie. Photo by Reuters.
David Bowie. Photo by Reuters.
He provided the soundtrack to so many lives.

That seems to be the overwhelming sentiment from fans in New Zealand and around the world mourning the death of the inimitable David Bowie.

In a world where the words and phrases "genius'', "unique'', "authentic'', "icon'', "legend'', "innovative'' and "ground-breaking'' are overused, the late British musician can surely lay claim to all the above terms.

He was, quite simply, a giant among musical men and women - and a poet, philosopher and intellectual to boot.

His career spanned almost five decades and his breadth of work was equally impressive, encompassing everything from glam rock and hard rock, pop and electronica, to funk, soul, folk and more.

Part of his talent was in defying labels and conventions, however.

Not only was his music an amalgam of genres, he was an actor and chameleon too, reinventing himself with the personas of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke.

His androgynous appearance, ambiguous sexuality and outlandish fashion sense challenged and provoked the status quo, but made him a magnet for the young, the marginalised, the open-minded and anyone anti-establishment.

This depth and breadth ensured a widespread appeal, which explains the global mourning since his death on Monday aged 69, after a 18-month battle with lung cancer of which the world knew nothing.

It seems typical that Bowie - born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London - let his music do the talking to the end.

His final album, Blackstar, was released only days before his death, to coincide with his 69th birthday.

Containing songs such as Lazarus, with its biblical reference about rising from the dead, with the opening lyrics

"Look up here, I'm in heaven'' and "I've got nothing left to lose'', it was produced to be his last love letter to life and fans, and will forever be a poignant reminder of this musical trailblazer, whose star rose with the space age.

While the world mourns, we should count ourselves lucky he left this parting musical gift, and that "the man who fell to earth'' took us along for such a wild ride.

Whether it was encouraging us all to be Heroes as we sang along to the urgent strains of his famous track, or pondering our insignificance as we space-walked with Major Tom in Space Oddity, or celebrating life in the poppy, upbeat Dancing in the Street, he was there in the background.

And for those people who have been untouched by Bowie; why should they care?

Perhaps because the world is simply a better place for having such cultural diversity.

For having musicians - and artists in general - who communicate in such profound ways the beauty and pain in life, its joy and sorrow, who examine the human condition, stretch our imaginations, make us think, make us feel, provoke us, inspire us to act.

Bowie's loss will be keenly felt, too, in an increasingly superficial entertainment world where style takes precedence over substance, where all you need is a good producer and a pretty face to make an impact - as the proliferation of generic artists and one-dimensional boy and girl bands shows.

He was in a different orbit entirely.

The "starman, waiting in the sky'' will forever "blow our minds'' with his genius.

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