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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Guyon: Black Star Dust

David Bowie’s trail-blazing music and creative courage helped shape and reveal who I am. He’s often described has having reinvented himself over the years, but I always looked at it as him simply honoring his numerous, very interesting sides, as they emerged. I was in grade school during his Ziggy Stardust years, but I saw Ziggy in everything he did thereafter. There’s an element of his whimsical Davy Jones, his androgynous Aladdin Sane, his elegant Thin White Duke, his haunted Man Who Fell to Earth, even his fragile Pierrot, embedded in each quirky sound, soaring ballad and surreal video he’s done since, including his last, profoundly moving album, Blackstar.

Every tune he recorded is layered with his complex, colorful identity and the poetry of his lyrics grew deeper with every album… well, except for some of the 80s stuff, but we can all agree to forgive the blunders of that decade - like asymmetrical hair - right?

As a young adult finding my footing in a big city, Bowie taught me I could be a serious writer, with a college degree and a good career and still have spiky pink hair, combat boots and a taste for the avant garde. He made it okay to express my entire self - intellectual, professional and artist. He showed the world it was possible to be unconventional, even outrageous and still be kind, responsible and respected.

Bowie’s multi-faceted sensibilities were never more evident than in a song he recorded for television in 1977. I was a 15-year old closet Bowie-Talking Heads-Elvis Costello-Sex Pistols-loving punk who nevertheless still loved a nice cup of tea and a scone, and my worlds collided the night the David Bowie-Bing Crosby Little Drummer Boy duet aired.

I’d never risked leaving out albums like Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs or Pin-Ups in my room, for fear of freaking out my parents. So I nearly fell off my chair during that Christmas special, when my Mum said lightheartedly, “Oh yeah, that’s David Bowie, he’s a lovely lad.”

Apparently, she knew all about him, and his edgy personas didn’t faze her a bit. Soon I’d played all his albums for her and, though she didn’t start pogo-ing in the kitchen, she attested, “He’s got a voice like double-cream.”

Bowie’s brilliance resonated across generations, genders, genres and eras. He was like family - our Ziggy Stardust – and we fans will miss him.

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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