At the start of the 1970s, rock ’n’ roll was happy with its transformation from the era of matching haircuts and suits (think early Beatles) to long-haired bad boys in leather trousers (think Jim Morrison of the Doors). Then — wham bam! — came David Bowie, in the persona of Ziggy Stardust, an outlandish alien rock star with an orange mullet hairdo and high plastic boots.
Ziggy, who led a band called the Spiders From Mars, was discarded after a while. He was one of several alter egos Bowie created as he stretched rock music from its roots as a gritty, modern version of the blues to encompass the drama and glamour of theater. If you’re wondering how spandex and glitter ever found a place in traditional rock, that’s the influence of David Bowie.
Not many people would have predicted that Bowie would turn out to be one of the most enduring, and endearing, figures in rock music. Yet news of his death Sunday at age 69 deeply touched many people around the globe.
The singer and songwriter was born David Jones in London but became David Bowie, an androgynous mystery man with movie star looks and shape-shifting taste. A style arbiter, Bowie was one of the first rock stars to understand the power of music videos. He was also one of the first to realize the Internet would decimate the music industry. He avoided the coming debacle in 1997 by issuing Bowie bonds on Wall Street — essentially, he sold to investors the rights to future royalties.
Bowie’s legacy got a significant late boost from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which staged a blockbuster retrospective from London in 2014 called “David Bowie Is.”
Bowie never stopped creating, never stopped drawing the attention of the devoted and the just plain curious. On Jan. 8, his birthday, David Bowie released his 25th studio album, “Blackstar,” a stunning rock/jazz collaboration that’s as innovative as anything else in his catalog.
How to sum up David Bowie? As a songwriter he identified his muse in one catchy refrain from the 1977 album “Low”: “Don’t you wonder sometimes,” he sang, “ ’bout sound and vision?” He had it.