The Man Who Changed the World

The Man Who Changed the World: David Bowie 1947 – 2016

I never knew David Bowie. I wasn't in his inner sanctum of friends or within a 1000 mile radius of him.

But like many I was fascinated by the Thin White Duke and the Ziggy Stardust persona.

In Canberra, I was a world away from the excessive lifestyle of a superstar and the artistic surroundings of cosmopolitan London. Heck, I led such a boring life in comparison to this Chameleon.

Yet Bowie spoke to us all – you could be a plumber or a humble public servant and you couldn't help wondering who the hell was this androgynous figure with the golden hair?

He filled our television screens with transformative characters that were beyond the norm. He wasn't like us – he wasn't like anybody!


To me, Bowie was 'other-worldly.' This seems the most appropriate word to describe his musical creations which are extraordinary by any standards.

While many will share their love of Life on Mars or Space Oddity, I was fascinated by his abstract works like Scream Like a Baby or the searing rendition of Wild is the Wind.

He was a gifted singer, but he demanded patience if you wanted to delve into his work. It wasn't easy at times.

My earliest memory was listening to Bowie albums from the 80s, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) and Let's Dance. Like many punters I worked my way back to the stuff he bought out in the 70s and kept tabs on his current output.

I loved the patchiness of 1987 album Never Let Me Down and the rock industrial punch of single I'm Afraid of Americans. I adored the jazz infused messiness of Jump They Say and cursed at how some critics didn't quite rate his post 90s albums.

Why? Cause Bowie wasn't one to be caged by any genre – he was ahead of the curve. He mixed musical styles with swagger and he'd do it looking like a million bucks, golden locks hanging over those strange, knowing eyes.

I of course liked the songs which had an impact on so many others. Ashes to Ashes coiled itself around you, mysterious, with that hard-edged bass and ethereal keyboards. Who'd ever forget Bowie in a gaudy Pierrot costume walking on a bleak English harbor.

The guy had presence. He starred in movies – finding time to do everything as everything was so damn limitless to him. No boundaries at all; and his video clips pioneered how artists could cast a spell on their audience.

Who could forget the image of our Starman in Let's Dance in a far-flung pub in Carinda looking like some blonde alien.

I remember him as the Goblin King in Labyrinth too and the exciting feeling of walking out of Impact Records clutching a vinyl single of Underground, the soundtrack to that movie.

I watched him in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and to this day marvel at the true story of my Dad connecting with actor Jack Thompson through a work association. I'll never forget the excitement of receiving Mr Thompson's autograph on a beer coaster with the message: 'Cop this mate, David Bowie.'

As famous as Jack is, my Dad knew I simply thought of him as the actor who worked alongside a brilliant musician.

I know Bowie infiltrated many other lives as the last week has taught us that millions have been influenced by him whether through odd encounters, direct or indirect associations. But you don't have to be a celebrity with an influential social media account to appreciate Bowie's gifts. We all in a way know he had such a profound influence on us that is kind of hard to explain.

I guess Brixton's David Jones found a way to challenge us and influence our cultural and creative thinking.

In his 2004 Sydney concert, I was reminded of his genius and incredible vocal range. When that uncanny voice sung Five Years my knees wobbled as it was clear he was one of the greatest singers of a generation.

Now the release of final album Black Star has me enthralled again. It was nearly too much: the nightmarish visions of Major Tom's bejeweled skeleton in a spacesuit, voodoo rhythms and Bowie laid out on a hospital bed contemplating his own mortality.

The creative prophet had returned and once again he had something for us to decode.

And the music is stellar: dark, dramatic jazz merged with rock – another example of Bowie's experimental nature.

This is how David Bowie weaved himself into my life. He was my hero! I never knew him, but I miss him all the same.

Sean Palmer is a Canberra writer