Name someone cooler than David Bowie. Hmm? What’s that? Completely impossible, you say? Right you are, you pretty things. Not only is he eternally stylish and multi-talented, he’s the only person in the history of the universe to wear a mullet and look fabulous at the same time. He owns a chateau, his wife is supernaturally gorgeous and he can play the xylophone. Getting punched in the eye only made him look cooler. Take that, Chuck Norris. Whether juggling with someone else’s hands, singing about child murderers with sinus infections or simulating fellatio on Mormon guitarists, there’s nobody else I find even remotely as splendidly cool as David Bowie. Yes, some of his songs are utter pants. It irks me ferociously that the same man who wrote “Rock and Roll Suicide” also wrote “Let’s Dance.” Or “China Girl.” I mean, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Stevie Ray Vaughn combined should not yield “China Girl,” surely. But that aside, the great in his career outweighs the crap by a very wide margin.
Science fiction and fantasy play major roles in his coolth. Allow me to point out a few of his key contributions that make him one of specfic’s best entertainers.
#1. The songs. Where would he be without scifi and fantasy? No laughing gnomes, no diamond dogs, no men selling worlds. (And a certain BBC time travel/police procedural would have a different title.) There’s no Ziggy without the stardust. “Space Oddity,” of course, is a beautiful song about committing suicide in space, or perhaps being lost and unable to return to Earth, and “Ashes to Ashes” is a requiem for Major Tom in parallel with images of addiction. Just about every song from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust has scifi imagery, and sizeable chunk of the songs he wrote from 1972 to about 1984 (and a fair few since) have monsters, space men, stars and post-apocalyptic or dystopian themes.
#2. The Man Who Fell To Earth. In 1976 when Bowie was such an emaciated cokehead it’s amazing he didn’t crawl into a straw and snort himself, he played a water-hunting alien visitor from a planet suffering a terrible drought. The best reasons to watch this are the lovely visuals and Bowie’s performance. He’s believably alien and it’s easy to forget the rock star side of him when he acts. Unlike so many other rock stars turned movie stars, he can act. Incidentally—if I’m remembering correctly—according to Margret Cheney’s biography of Tesla, there were people who believed Tesla was an alien and referred to him as “the man who fell to earth.” In a bit of odd casting, Bowie later played Tesla in the generally lackluster film adaptation of The Prestige. (There ought to be a really good biopic about Tesla some day. I mean, the dude was amazing. As Edison never said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent Tesla’s ideas.”) I’ve also read that Tim Burton wanted him to play the Joker but the role went to Jack Nicholson instead. Silly Tim Burton.
#3. The Hunger. Tony Scott, who went on to make many less interesting films, directed Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in my favorite vampire film. Sexier than a hundred thousand Twilights, it also gave us Bauhaus performing “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” with Peter Murphy looking hot enough to make me doubt my occasionally shaky grip on heterosexuality.
#4. Goths in general. Most Goths are nerds. You know that, right? Voltaire (singer, not philosopher) semi-famously quipped that Goths are just Trekkies in black. While it would be silly to say there would be no Goths without Bowie, I doubt any other single entertainer has been as great an influence upon my fellow Necrotrekkies. Goths who hate Bowie are rare, if not damn near nonexistent. He has the intelligent darkness, humor and innate elegance Goths admire, and he sings about being from Mars, or at least feeling like you’re from there. He’s been a goblin king and a vampire and an alien. He’s skinny and pretty and rather pale, and carries more than a little Weimar Republic aesthetic in his music. Just about every Goth band counts him as a major inspiration, even the Goths that are Goth as batshit but deny being Goth (Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux, for example).
#5. Labyrinth. As I’ve made very clear, he’s the king of the motherfuckin’ muppet goblins. Nuff said.
#6. He’s not a grumpy old Luddite afraid that everyone on the internet wants to rob him. He’s embraced digital media and online marketing from the get-go. In 1998, when a lot of musicians looked at the internet with trepidation, Bowie started up his own ISP/store/fansite. He received a Lifetime Achievement Webbie for his work online.
#7. His DNA. Bowie has geekery in his genes, as evidenced by the fact that one of his hardier sperm went on to create Moon, one of the best science fiction films in recent years.
Jason Henninger took up contact juggling solely because of Labyrinth, but will never wear pants as tight as Jareth’s.