First things first. I'd always assumed that we'd all die and Bowie would live forever. That's kind of how most people feel about great artists and what they mean on a personal level throughout the gravitas of your life. The authentic songwriters don't just soundtrack your life, they teach you something about the validity of it. They show you a glimpse into a sparkling world where it's OK to be a dreamer and shy and different as long as you just be. They're the pathway when you're stuck in a shit town with a no hope for a future. They show you the edges of the rainbow. It's up to you whether you grab it or not.
Bowie more than any of those authentic greats lit up the horizon for a vast array of likeminded souls. He was the perfection of a rebel in that he really took the fuckers on. Whether it was the inherent masculinity of rock n roll or what creative freedom an established artist can exercise within a record contract, Bowie won all those battles with a steel that belied his glamorous image. He was tough. He set his blueprint out early: to take the greatest cultural art form there is in pop music and shift it away from its saccharine mentality into thrilling new waters. Sonically with the white noise and avant grade compositions he often wrapped his melodies in and poetically with the sly, cryptic nature of his lyrics. The age old four beat literacy of pop was always there of course in love, loss, redemption and despair but in Bowie's hands there was an other worldliness to it. An artistic fleet of foot too. Whenever he felt like he was pinned down to something close to sentimentality and tradition he simply spun it all on a strange axis. Being caught in the headlights of temperance and understanding was never Bowie's thing.
That same axis was spun deliciously in his use of image too. Bowie understood the Warhol ethic of the Hollywood freeze frame, the idea that the perfectly painted mask of both the shiva and the diva was the perfect cultural tool. Maybe he was protecting himself? Why let people pin you down? From Aladdin Sane to Ziggy Stardust and beyond, Bowie's constant muse on the idea of fame and excess were created and perversely killed off as each persona seemed to write blacker on the page than the last. By the time Station to Station's Thin White Duke came along they'd damn near destroyed him. Caught in a slow storm of Cocaine and self destruction, Bowie was perilously close to sinking into a permanent midnight as the psychic vampires and outside influences threatened to get the better of him.
Even then however, in his most personal and spiritually bankrupt period, Bowie simply reinvented himself. Berlin and the Eno trilogy and his real feat of iron man strength saw Bowie through. He got clean and he got busy and created the best avant garde pop music ever formed on this planet. The ghost whispers of Low, Lodger and Heroes were Bowie at his most secret and yet strangely personal, hunkered down in a studio with his Roxy foe, trying to interpret the new sounds erupting at the time. From Krautrock to Moroder's I Feel Love to those early blueprints of punk rock, Bowie soaked it all in like a sponge. He was always a curator of the new and the nefarious anyway, as long as it was shot through with some sense of style and interference. It would be a role he would eventually settle into deliciously.
Once the dust had settled on the vapid eighties and his huge success (which he hated), Bowie took a back seat and began to champion the new wave of pistoleros even though it was virtually unheard of for a rocker of his generation to do so. Bands like Dinosaur Jnr and Sonic Youth, Mercury Rev and a latter day Arcade Fire were given a thumbs up from Bowie and with it a certain authenticity. It was almost as if he was handing over the keys, or maybe he was slightly playing a long game and lulling us all into a false sense of abandonment. Whatever his motives, a great alligator grin of impudence must have spread wide on his face when he realised what he had eventually coming.
And with one last brilliant spin of the dice, Bowie caught everyone off guard perfectly. With its lack of hype and promotion, 2013's The Next Day was a triumph of substance over modernism. Bowie simply dropped it onto the world and settled into the role he must have enjoyed best as the J D Salinger of rock and roll. The album was a triumph of course, maybe a statement on the rise of celebrity culture and perhaps something a great deal more personal. Bowie steadfastly refused interviews anyway to explain it and with it became more of a mystery than ever before. The clever bastard. The greatest trick he managed to pull with it however is that he kept us hanging on. He kept us there. Right through to his final release Black Star, Bowie played us all like the genius he was. Even though his light was fading and he knew the white winged angels were on the verge of carrying him upwards forever, he had one last theatrical twist and piece of magic to give to the world. And that glittering magic is something that will never be replicated.