If you’ve been in my class at USC, you know that I have a lot of theories.
Two of the oldest:
1. That on the passing of Paul McCartney, there will be universal acknowledgement that Lennon/McCartney are the most influential authors in the English language, along with Shakespeare. And as civilization moves further from text and towards screen-delivered sound and vision in the next few generations, the Beatles will supplant Shakespeare.
2.That some time after his death, it will become clear that David Bowie was the greatest individual artist of the second half of the 20th century.
That idea is being tested way too soon.
Bowie provided no warning that he was so close to death. In fact, his last great artistic achievement may have been the gap in the way his album Blackstar was received when it came out on January 8 – as a brilliant but enigmatic return to form – and then completely reappraised 48 hours later when the truth became obvious: that Blackstar was Bowie, saying goodbye.
So much has been said that I’ll keep this brief.
Between 1970 and 1980, David Bowie recorded a staggering 14 albums – at least 10 of which are absolute masterpieces (Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, “Heroes”, Lodger and Scary Monsters) . Most of these albums either defined or reinvented whole genres – from glam to techno, punk to New Romantic. By comparison, the Beatles recorded their entire catalog of 13 albums in 7 years… and there were four of them.
There is simply no one other than The Beatles who can match Bowie’s impact on pop music in his decade; the only other artista with this kind of track record are other transcendent greats: Picasso, Matisse, Hitchcock and Fassbinder.
And this is without counting the Broadway triumph of The Elephant Man, the shock of the new of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and the seismic influence on fashion, sexual personae and identity that ran throughout his career.
To understand how completely Bowie transformed English culture, see his 1972 explosion on British TV here. To see the genius of his process, watch this. To understand why we loved him, watch his final bow with Ricky Gervais here.
Thank you, Mr. Jones.