Alexander Thomas Garvey Holbrook shares his thoughts on the loss of David Bowie and the influence of Heroes.
I have never been one to join in mass emoting for any event, but I cannot help the melancholy surrounding us today.
When the heart of David Bowie ceased to beat, not only was there a loss of a great pop musician, but a motive force for culture as well. From Film to Fashion, Bowie’s name echoes like an adhan.
I cannot speak for Film or Fashion in any great detail, but I can say this with all certainty – Bowie’s musical progression and output was not a result of the nagging label of ‘musical chameleon’, a man able to predict trends and capitalise upon them, but rather a driving and dynamic presence, standing alongside Miles Davis and Frank Zappa in the scope of his influence.
If music is the great communicator, then it takes a great mind and a great heart to transmute the avant-garde and the conceptual into workable and tangible entities. In this field, and certainly in Pop, Bowie had no rival.
To take the example of what I consider to be his best album ‘Heroes’, Bowie’s kinship with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp was to assimilate Reich and Riley and thus bold forth the flowering of Post Punk before Joy Division, Magazine and Public Image Ltd released records.
Perhaps more significantly, it represented the greatest leap in pop music yet. Eno had flirted with minimalist music on his various ambient albums, as had Fripp with his various sonic experiments on his solo albums. The latter tended to lean towards Terry Riley and John Coltrane, rather than Reich.
On this, the final album of the Berlin trilogy, Bowie’s lyrics abandoned the flamboyance of his earlier records and opted for oblique lyricism alongside a full-pelt performance, reminiscent of Fripp’s ‘Exposure’. But more than this, the production and repetitiveness of the music – rarely changing technically bar it’s dynamics and layering – mirrored Eno’s opinions on Reich’s compositional style:
“These were aural moiré patterns [an optical illusion caused by parallel lines moved in relation to each other]. It was moving the role of the composer into the head of the audience and saying ‘you’re making the music, it’s coming out of your head'”
That may sound glib at first, but bear in mind that this idea immediately influenced Chicago house and nearly every post-punk dance music form. From there, the rippling effect has marked every form of music to emerge afterwards.
In transferring the music to the listener and, in the process, making the style the substance, Bowie not only changed music, but also achieved the last great innovation whilst not succumbing to pretension or finding himself in the avant-garde dustbin. This also meant pop had found it’s new substance, it’s new raison d’être, and proved, more than Punk did, that a few people with simple ideas, passionately expressed, can alter cultural history.
That his loss is felt so keenly is a testament to the degree he was admired and respected. We have not lost another face from a distant time or a kitsch idol, but a monolith. A name made to carry itself by it’s very sound.
Impossible to forget.