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Rock icon, David Bowie, changed the face of music

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David Bowie in 2002. Image: Photobra|Adam Bielawski
David Bowie in 2002. Image: Photobra|Adam Bielawski

The stars look very different today.

David Bowie, one of the world’s most famous musical artists, has passed away at the age of 69, from cancer.

People around the world are mourning the death of a man who was a rock star, a pop star, an actor and someone many people would consider an all-around “creative genius.”

Bowie pushed the boundaries of every art form he touched—singing, movies, fashion, song writing. He was an avid reader and an intellectual. He applied his knowledge to his work, so that his songs—while many of them seem “normal” to us today as we look back on them—were always far ahead of what others were doing at the time.

Whatever Bowie did, he did with style. He was known for his outlandish fashion, often painting his face and styling his hair so he didn’t look like himself. His iconic tall, slim figure often lent itself to fashion that was gender-ambiguous; in other words, you often didn’t recognize him—or even known whether it was a man or a woman in the costume. In the 1970s, he assumed a personality known as the “Thin White Duke,” and sang in a style The Guardian calls “synthetic art-funk.” It was ahead of its time.

Contributing to Bowie’s often odd look, was the fact that his eyes were unusual and interesting. In 1962 when he was young, a boy punched him in the schoolyard, and the pupil (black part) of his left eye became permanently “dilated,” meaning that it was much bigger than that of the other eye. (Bowie remained close friends with the boy, who “later designed Bowie’s album artwork,” according to the British newspaper The Guardian. In fact, the boy was a member of Bowie’s first band, the Kon-rads, when Bowie was 15 years old.)

David Bowie’s real name was David Jones, but he changed it to David Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with another major pop star of the time, Davy Jones, of The Monkees.

One of Bowie’s biggest songs is Space Oddity, which came out around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The song was famously sung by former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield—while Hadfield was flying above the Earth in the International Space Station.

Bowie had many other huge hits including Starman, The Man Who Sold the World, Jean Genie, Rebel Rebel, Ashes to Ashes, Fame and Under Pressure.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about David Bowie was that you never knew what he was going to do next. His last music video, which was released in early January, shortly before his death, was called “Lazarus.”  It was intended to be a “self epitaph,”—a type of musical and artistic “good-bye” for his fans.

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Look up the biblical story of “Lazarus of Bethany.” What is it about? Why do you think David Bowie titled his final music video “Lazarus”?

Reading Prompt: Responding to and Evaluating Texts
The first line of the article is a lyric from David Bowie’s famous song, Space Oddity: “The stars look very different today.” 

Why do you think the journalist chose to begin the article with this lyric? What do you think it means?

The song, Space Oddity, was first released in 1969. In 1969, David Bowie record the following music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D67kmFzSh_o

Forty-four years later in 2013, Chris Hadfield recorded this song from space and posted this music video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo

Watch the two videos and compare them. How are they similar and different?

What do you think this song is about?

Make judgements and draw conclusions about the ideas and information in texts and cite stated or implied evidence from the text to support their views (OME: Reading, 1.8).

Evaluate the effectiveness of both simple and complex texts based on evidence from the texts (OME: Reading, 1.8).

Language Feature: Music Lyrics
Pick your favourite song and look up the lyrics. What is the song about and why is it your favourite?

How are musical lyrics different or similar to a story, a newspaper article or a poem?