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David Bowie Transcended Music, Art and Fashion.
David Bowie, the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas, died two days after his 69th birthday.
His last album, “Blackstar,” a collaboration with a jazz quartet that was typically enigmatic and exploratory.
He had also collaborated on an Off Broadway musical, “Lazarus,” which was a surreal sequel to the 1976 film that featured his definitive screen role, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
Mr. Bowie wrote songs, above all, about being an outsider: an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His music was always a mutable blend — rock, cabaret, jazz and what he called “plastic soul” — but it was suffused with genuine soul. He also captured the drama and longing of everyday life, enough to give him No. 1 pop hits like “Let’s Dance.”
In concerts and videos, Mr. Bowie’s costumes and imagery traversed styles, eras and continents, from German Expressionism to commedia dell’arte to Japanese kimonos to spacesuits. He set an example, and a challenge, for every arena spectacle in his wake.
If he had an anthem, it was “Changes,” from his 1971 album “Hunky Dory,” which proclaimed:
Turn and face the strange,
Oh look out now you rock and rollers,
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.
Mr. Bowie earned admiration and emulation across the musical spectrum — from rockers, balladeers, punks, hip-hop acts, creators of pop spectacles and even classical composers like Philip Glass, who based two symphonies on Mr. Bowie’s albums “Low” and “Heroes.”
Mr. Bowie’s constantly morphing persona was a touchstone for performers like Madonna and Lady Gaga; his determination to stay contemporary introduced his fans to Philadelphia funk, Japanese fashion, German electronica and drum-and-bass dance music.
Nirvana chose to sing “The Man Who Sold the World,” the title song of Mr. Bowie’s 1970 album, in its brief set for “MTV Unplugged in New York” in 1993. “Under Pressure,” a collaboration with the glam-rock group Queen, supplied a bass line for the 1990 Vanilla Ice hit “Ice Ice Baby.”
Yet throughout Mr. Bowie’s metamorphoses, he was always recognizable. His voice was widely imitated but always his own; his message was that there was always empathy beyond difference.
Angst and apocalypse, media and paranoia, distance and yearning were among Mr. Bowie’s lifelong themes. So was a penchant for transgression coupled with a determination to push cult tastes toward the mainstream.
Mr. Bowie produced albums and wrote songs for some of his idols — Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople — that gave them pop hits without causing them to abandon their individuality. And he collaborated with musicians like Brian Eno during the late-1970s period that would become known as his Berlin years and, in his final recordings, with the jazz musicians Maria Schneider and Donny McCaslin, introducing them to many new listeners.
Mr. Bowie was a person of relentless reinvention. He emerged in the late 1960s with the voice of a rock belter but with the sensibility of a cabaret singer, steeped in the dynamics of stage musicals.
He was Major Tom, the lost astronaut in his career-making 1969 hit “Space Oddity.” He was Ziggy Stardust, the otherworldly pop star at the center of his 1972 album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.”
He was the self-destructive Thin White Duke and the minimalist but heartfelt voice of the three albums he recorded in Berlin in the ’70s.
The arrival of MTV in the 1980s was the perfect complement to Mr. Bowie’s sense of theatricality and fashion. “Ashes to Ashes,” the “Space Oddity” sequel that revealed, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie,” and “Let’s Dance,” which offered, “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,” gave him worldwide popularity.
Mr. Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could. With a voice that dipped down to baritone and leapt into falsetto, he was complexly androgynous, an explorer of human impulses that could not be quantified.
He also pushed the limits of “Fashion” and “Fame,” writing songs with those titles and also thinking deeply about the possibilities and strictures of rock renown.