Bowie’s departure for another planet (Mars … perhaps) leaves us, philosophers, with an unanswered question: ‘Who was David Bowie?’. Through his many metamorphoses, Bowie escaped from any attempt at pinning him down under a fixed identity. Instead, he continuously experimented with successive ‘personae’ which he was prepared to abandon, once their artistic and aesthetic use had run out their course.This chameleon-like ability to initiate and embrace new ‘changes’ is characteristic of an existentialist way of thinking, detached from the confines of traditional morality. Bowie was no philosopher but his craft required an open-mindedness and readiness to empathise with ‘unconventional’ human traits such as androgyny or homosexuality, not to mention the emotions of a friendly alien soon at the mercy of hostile human beings. Bowie was also prepared to exploit his public image to expose the futility of a modern world obsessed with ‘fame’ and ‘fashion’ as if his songs not only mirrored his own ‘Starman’’s status but also served as a warning to his adoring fans. Bowie went on to sublimate the ‘vanity of it all’ in his ‘Ashes to Ashes’ clownish reincarnation.
Over the years, Bowie’s changing faces and sounds always proved ahead of existing trends in his search for new looks and richer musical blends. Originally influenced by the silent acting of mime artists, he saw himself as a mere vehicle for expressing emotions, to the point that he could not only enact but ‘become’ Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. Despite his haunting preoccupation with transgression, schizophrenia and death, Bowie preserved his sanity through his controlled search for vicarious egos and parallel worlds. Why be afraid of ‘reality’ when, like Bowie, we can also create such alternative worlds through a myriad of borrowed images and melodies. The recordings of the ‘Thin White Duke’ are probably the best sound track to any reading of Nietzsche’s works as both ‘artists’ ultimately shared the same noble aloofness of those who love and hate life with equal measure.