Five Amazing Things About David Bowie Beyond His Music

One of David Bowie's final publicity photos, for his new album 'Blackstar'
One of David Bowie's final publicity photos, for his new album 'Blackstar'
Photo by Jimmy King/Courtesy of Nasty Little Man

The outpouring of emotion that has followed David Bowie's death has been amazing to witness, and seems to have affected many people on a far more profound level than most celebrity deaths tend to. I can't remember a time when I experienced a similar level of grief over the death of someone I didn't know personally. Like many others, I seem to still be processing the loss of a man who was a lot more than just a rock star and whose death has left an enormous void that feels as if it will be impossible to fill. Clearly David Bowie was a remarkable artist far beyond the music he made, and I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of those moments from his life that made him such an interesting character.

5. Many People Thought His Eyes Were a Different Color
But they weren't. David Bowie's eyes looked odd, something that contributed to the unconventional images that he created throughout his long career, but they weren't different colors. When he was 15, Bowie got into a fistfight with a schoolmate and friend over a girl they both fancied. His pal George Underwood slugged the future rock star, badly injuring his left eye, which left it permanently dilated. Besides permanently affecting Bowie's sense of perspective, it also gave him a distinctive look for the rest of his life.

4. He Rescued Iggy Pop's Career
According to interviews with the iconic rock pioneer, Iggy Pop felt like he'd landed in a very low place after The Stooges called it quits. His drug use was out of control, and few people believed he still had anything of value to contribute to rock and roll. David Bowie recognized that Iggy still had a spark of genius left in him, and invited his friend to come along to watch Bowie on his 1976 tour. The following year, Bowie produced Iggy's first solo album, The Idiot, followed by Lust For Life, contributing material and supporting him during one of his most fertile creative periods. The men remained lifelong friends, according to Iggy, who credits Bowie with saving his career, and possibly his life.

3. He Helped Bring National Attention to a Lot of Other Musicians
Bowie was probably the first major rock star to shift gears and try new musical styles every few years, rather than following the  conventional route of sticking to a style of music that reliably sells records. Besides hippie folk and glam, he went through career phases that saw him experimenting with hard rock, soul, dance, electronic music and many others. Rather than the clumsy attempts by other '70s rockers who begrudgingly released a "disco" or "New Wave" album in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, Bowie made stylistic shifts look effortless, and led trends rather than following them. Because of his ongoing musical evolution and a willingness to work with all sorts of musicians, Bowie helped bring exposure to many of them, helping to jump-start their careers in some cases. Looking at a list of musicians whom he collaborated with is amazing — folks like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Vandross, Brian Eno, Klaus Nomi, Trent Reznor, Reeves Gabrels, Moby and Nile Rodgers, are among the diverse cast of characters whom Bowie worked with or helped to get a piece of the spotlight for themselves.

2. He Was Generous to Animal-Welfare Causes
David Bowie was said to have a soft spot in his heart for animal-welfare causes, but one of his biggest contributions was making his hit 1977 song "Heroes" available for the makers of an Academy Award-winning documentary about an annual Japanese slaughter of whales and dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Song licensing to films can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the stature of the song in question, but Bowie insisted that RCA Records make it available to the producers of The Cove for next to nothing. Since the film's release in 2009, "Heroes" has become a rallying anthem within the anti-whaling movement.

1. He Was Interested in Many Kinds of Art
It is probably not surprising that David Bowie collected art; after all, lots of wealthy rock stars have built world-class collections for themselves, but fewer seemed to have as deep a connection to the art world as Bowie did. He had attended art school himself, studied dance and mime, and injected cutting-edge fashion into his image and shows from an early point in his career. He was also a painter himself, so it makes sense that Bowie was one of the artists responsible for blending a healthy dose of the avant-garde into creative endeavors throughout their careers.

David Bowie was one of a kind, and there will never be another performer like him. He stood out from his contemporaries, and his music and life shine brightly, despite his sudden absence from our world. For my part, I've been listening to "Rock and Roll Suicide" over and over, and I feel fortunate to have had an artist like Bowie affect me on such a fundamental level. He sure was an amazing person.

Classic Numbers hosts a tribute to David Bowie starting at 9 p.m. tonight at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Let's dance.

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