“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”
Statement issued Monday morning by David Bowie’s family.
It’s the biggest cliché, but it aptly applies to David Bowie: he died doing what he loved. Early this morning, Bowie was pronounced dead at 69, the end of an 18-month battle with cancer. Up until his death, Bowie was indeed still living, still experiencing, and most importantly, still making music.
Early Monday morning, fans worldwide mourned the great loss, with fans in Los Angeles holding an impromptu vigil around his Hollywood star. Across the world, fans shared endless tales about the great songwriter, producer, performer, actor, visual artist, and yes, technologist, with multiple generations affected.
Plenty of older superstars continue to perform into the 60s, 70s, and beyond, though health issues truncated Bowie’s touring career in 2004. Since that point, Bowie has remained musically active, with a core of dedicated fans replacing the mass appeal of earlier decades. Just weeks prior to his death, Bowie released Blackstar, his twenty-seventh studio album. The title track is being used for the TV series, The Last Panthers, with stations like BBC and KCRW championing the release.
The broader populace will remember bigger releases from earlier decades, including ‘Little China Girl,’ ‘Let’s Dance,’ ‘Under Pressure,’ ‘Dancing In the Street,’ ‘Fame,’ ‘Suffragette City,’ and career-spawning tracks like ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘The Laughing Gnome’. Indeed, for all of Bowie’s remarkable talent, sexuality and showmanship, his hits were the biggest career fuel.
More recent releases lacked the chart-topping capabilities of earlier work, with at least one critic blasting Bowie for losing relevance, musically and technologically. “How come these oldsters don’t get it?” Lefsetz lambasted in 2013. “They made music that lasted forever, now they just want to play for a day. Employ the old school publicity paradigm on steroids which is ignored by everybody but the aforementioned sycophants who think we’re still living in 1974.”
Harsh perhaps, though Bowie could be criticized for falling out of step with post-Napster consumption patterns. Bowie was involved in a few tech-forward initiatives, including BowieNet, an artist-themed ISP. In the 90s, he was also tinkering with CD-ROM and online-only releases, though somehow, his release strategies seemed antiquated by the 2010s.
Still, Bowie could clearly see the future of music technology, even if he failed to fully adapt to it. “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” Bowie predicted back in 2002 during an interview with the New York Times.
Another 90s innovation happened in the financial arena. Dubbed the ‘Bowie Bond,’ the forward-looking, $55 million instrument allowed Bowie to leverage future publishing revenues for handsome, advance payouts. That idea has since been adopted by other celebrities and musicians, though these days, making predictions on the future value of intellectual property is a more difficult task.
Perhaps less complicated is the deep musical legacy left behind by one of the greatest musical artists of our era. RIP, David Bowie. 1947-2016.