Appreciation: David Bowie’s Magic Act
Art & Design
In some ways, the most audacious act of David Bowie’s life was his death. 40 years on from the creation of Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, he had receded from the music stage, had all but disappeared from public life. And then—like magic—Bowie was back. A new album, good reviews, a reminder that he was still here, still making music, still had some things to say. But then—just like that—he was gone again. This time, for good. Quietly, privately, by his rules alone, David Bowie orchestrated the most elegant disappearing act in recent memory.
We shouldn’t be surprised. What made Bowie the public (and secret) icon of discerning music buffs and social misfits, fashion obsessives and visual artists, giggling teenage girls and anguished teenage boys was his ability to catch us completely off guard. Just when we thought we had seen it all, he was there, showing us something we had never seen before, touching a nerve. Decades before outlandishness became the new normal, before subversion a pop cultural phenomenon, before Prince and Madonna, Iggy and Gaga, he stood alone in his power to induce gasps, make us stop dead in our tracks to look and listen—again and again.
Singer, actor, playwright, producer, painter, art collector, father, friend. Bowie, for all the glitter and artifice that defined his most famous alter egos, was that thing most of us aspire to be: the well-rounded creative being. So, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this week he managed once again to catch us completely—shockingly—off guard. In an age in which it is possible to think we know everything before it is anything, David Bowie showed us just how it feels to know nothing. In death, as in life, he did what all great artists do: he took us all by surprise.