It’s impossible to take a snapshot. Or in other words, as a moment frozen in time, a snapshot would be the worst way to capture David Bowie. Pop is movement, but once most artists are established, instead of walking forward they let themselves be carried along by the conveyor belt, as it moves effortlessly beneath them. This turns them into nothing more than a snapshot in motion, frozen moments moving through careers that in reality remain fixed at some point in the past. That kind of dynamism is really just standing still. That is the case with most of them. But not with Bowie. This is the major difference between him and artists in general, that constant mutation that came from an instinct that almost always took him in the right direction, knowing how to select the most suitable traveling companions while always knowing how to extract the very best they had to offer. This is why Bowie is movement more than anything else. He was definitely dynamic.
And that was true even during times when his steps were not so steady. Bowie was able to ride out mistakes by incorporating them into his statement, by making them real for their inevitability. Anyone who walks through a minefield must accept that eventually one will explode, leaving any sense of infallibility in tatters, and bringing back the human component to someone who, at one point in his career, especially during the 1970s, seemed more infallible than God or maybe like God himself, disguising himself as who knows what, and who knows for how long? Bowie the untouchable, the Bowie who coasted down the road of fame, then escaped from it by taking refuge in Berlin and then who did it again, now in the 1980s, using an approach that distressed some of his fans from the previous era. Do you think you know me? Well you’re wrong, he seemed to say to anyone who thought they had him figured out.
Even more striking is the fact that Bowie, a man who incorporated such a variety of styles, artistic manifestations, and images, achieved all of this in the days before the social networks, defining complex offerings that he had to promote through conventional media, which at times added meanings, sometimes erroneous – the result of a lack of understanding or just plain foolishness exhibited by others – with these extra layers added on top before being delivered to the consumers of information. A double somersault with a twist, so the message had to be clear so that it could arrive undistorted after its passage through the press. That Bowie, beyond the styles, the records, the eras, beyond his virtues or his failings, is the Bowie who was always fascinating, an artist with a global vision who interpreted the complexity of a changing world, which he even said farewell to with his music.
Professor of the Master in Cultural Journalism