Houston Awakens to Uncomfortable Reality of Losing David Bowie

To millions of music fans, the idea of waking up in a world without David Bowie is inconceivable, but it’s a sad reality this morning. According to The New York Times, the malleable pop icon known for his ever-shifting personae passed away Sunday following an 18-month struggle with cancer that only those within his inner circle knew about.

Bowie’s expansive catalog of hits — “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Fame,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Young Americans,” “‘Heroes’,” “Fashion,” “Under Pressure,” "Ashes to Ashes," “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance,” just to start with — is now part of the fundamental language of rock and roll, and can still be heard frequently on classic-rock radio, commercials and soundtracks. But besides the songs he recorded himself, Bowie also left his fingerprints on rock as producer of Lou Reed’s Transformer and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, as well as songwriter of Mott the Hoople’s 1972 glam-pop smash “All the Young Dudes.”

Even as Bowie’s appearances at the top of the charts began to wane after blockbuster 1983 LP Let’s Dance — with late Texas blues-rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, then on the cusp of stardom himself, in a prominent featured role — his legacy was already permeating younger generations of musicians. One of UK goth forefathers Bauhaus’s highest-profile songs was their cover of “Ziggy Stardust.” Nirvana covered “The Man Who Sold the World” on their 1994 album Unplugged In New York. U2 recorded 1991’s Achtung Baby in Berlin as a conscious attempt to recreate the environment of Bowie's late-‘70s “Berlin trilogy” of Low, "Heroes" and Lodger, enlisting the producer Brian Eno to return to the then-divided German capital with them. A generation after those albums merged rock and experimental electronic-based music, Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails to promote his industrial-laced album 1. Outside.

Born David Jones in 1947, Bowie was a child of the British Invasion years raised on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, and The Who, among others, but his music has a degree of theatricality and innovation that rivals and often surpasses even those lofty names. Besides allowing him to perpetually set new benchmarks for makeup and costume design in concert, it served him well in his many film roles including The Hunger, Labyrinth, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Prestige, and even as himself in the hit 2001 Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander.

Bowie’s death has been at the top of the news worldwide this morning, and the flood of tributes on social media has been fitting for a star of his magnitude. Madonna, whose “Rebel Heart” tour stops in Houston Tuesday night, tweeted that he was her first concert as a girl in Detroit.

Bowie’s final Houston-area performance came in April 2004 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, about three months before a heart attack onstage in Germany forced him to seriously curtail his concert appearances. He also played the Pavilion on 1990’s “Sound + Vision” tour; the Summit in 1978, 1983 and 1987; and a 1991 show with his band Tin Machine someplace called the Back Alley. A date on the “Ziggy Stardust” tour scheduled for November 1972 at Houston’s long-gone Music Hall was canceled; ticket prices were $3, $4 and $5.

At the time of his death, Bowie was already in the headlines because his latest album, Blackstar, was released last Friday — his 69th birthday. It’s hard not to interpret the opening lines of “Lazarus,” released as a single last month, as a knowing prophecy:

Look up here, I'm in heaven I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray