In January 1972, David Bowie announced to Melody Maker’s Michael Watts that he was bisexual. His announcement came at the beginning of Britain’s glam rock craze and just six months after the first gay pride march in London, was groundbreaking. It fitted entirely with his glam rock alter ego, the androgynous, hedonistic, alien-from-outer-space, self-destructive fictional rock star, Ziggy Stardust. The very style of this stage persona challenged the categories of masculine and feminine by pointing to the cultural construction of gender in a time where queer media was shunned and more so queer people themselves.
To many during the 70’s and 80’s, Bowie was a breath of fresh air that made things for queer people a little less suffocating, challenging the norms of society and gender while making music that was both revolutionary, provoking, rebellious and all-so-appealing to the masses regardless if they were gay or straight or anything in between. Though his statements on his sexuality did change through time (he said he was gay, then bisexual, then married women twice and had children), he was still, at the time, a beacon of hope for many queer people, a person in the public eye who proudly presented himself as anything but straight with performances and lyrics that focused on androgyny and sexual ambiguity. Seeing him on TV and magazine covers at the time felt like going to a gay club for the first time and realizing that there are other people just like you.
Bowie's musical career began in the 1960s, with him achieving breakthrough success in 1969 with the release of "Space Oddity" that continues to be a legendary hit today. He continued to experiment with various musical styles throughout his career, including glam rock, soul, funk, electronic, and experimental genres, all while creating alter egos such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke. These alter egos not only influenced his music but also his visual presentation and stage performances altogether. His constant self-reinvention and versatility was the key to his enduring popularity throughout the many generations as his art evolved with time.
Alongside being a cultural icon, a rockstar, a record producer and an actor, he was a strong activist who raised copious amounts of money for numerous AIDS foundations during and after the height of the AIDS epidemic. He was one to take stands to support and speak out on the LGBTQ+ community, further amplified by his many personas that encouraged dialogue and acceptance within the LGBTQ+ community. Occasionally talking about his experiences with both men and women (with partners coming forward with their experiences with him that even included orgies) in interviews much later in to his career, admitting that he was quite a promiscuous one during his younger years.
Sadly, the legendary David Bowie passed away on January 10, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album “Blackstar”, following a battle with liver cancer. “Blackstar” was planned to be his swan song, a “parting gift” of sorts to his dear fans with lyrics that seems to centre around a man grappling with his own mortality. His death marked the end of an era, but his legacy lives on through his vast body of work and his influence on generations of musicians and fans.
Article by Bernard Yap