Monday, January 11, 2016

In Memoriam: David Bowie

David Bowie has died.

I never paid enough attention to David Bowie to become a fan. But his work reached deeply enough into American culture - no, make that, world culture - so that one did not have to be a David Bowie fan to be touched by it.

Let me rephrase that for emphasis. Sometimes a person's achievements take them beyond the ranks of performer or artists, into the ranks of cultural influencers. Their works transcend them.

David Bowie reached that realm.

Others will produce more extensive tributes. I'll simply share two items.

First, the song that penetrated my consciousness even though I was not a David Bowie fan: "Space Oddity." In 1969, as America was in the home stretch to win the space race by placing the first men on the moon, Bowie's haunting ballad captured my youthful imagination, along with those of millions of others, in a most peculiar way. Although I never listened to the "Space Oddity" album, the title song became part of my personal soundtrack.

Bowie's position in the firmament of Cultural Influencers would be secure if he had done nothing else. So it was fitting - fitting, proper and just plain right - that the story of Major Tom provided the music for the first music video recorded in space. In 2013, Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency performed Bowie's song during his stay on the International Space Station:

Very cool. And very touching.

But the video became the subject of legal wrangling that limited its original presence on YouTube to two years. However, with Bowie's support, that was extended so that it could remain online until November 2016.

I hope it stays up forever.

Now, upon news of Bowie's death, Hadfield has paid what may be the quintessential tribute:


The second thing that David Bowie did that touched this non-David Bowie fan in a unique way was that he appeared on a 1977 Christmas special, "Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas," and sang a duet with Crosby. I could not have imagined a more unlikely pairing that the starman and the crooner, but there they were, performing a medley of "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace On Earth." I still find it touching, partly because the bridging of generations here suggests that the hope of peace might bridge other cultural divides. Throw in the fact that Bing Crosby died before the special aired, and you have a unique and noteworthy moment.


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