The Jan. 10 death of David Bowie — just two days after the release of his 25th studio album, the experimental, mortality-focused Blackstar — precipitated a large outpouring of grief on social media earlier this week. The news was shocking, not only because the 69-year-old musician kept his 18-month battle with liver cancer a secret, but also because of the sheer enormousness of Bowie’s legacy.
Over a career that lasted over a half-century, Bowie established himself as one of the most influential figures in popular music, challenging social and political mores just as often as he eschewed musical conventions. His death drew reactions from a multitude of musicians who called him an influence, including Kanye West, The National, St. Vincent, TV on the Radio and Damon Albarn.
But Bowie’s influence was also felt within Birmingham’s own music scene — many members of which expressed gratitude and sorrow at news of Bowie’s passing.
Dan Sartain: “In the earliest of my teen years David Bowie made playing music seem like an attainable thing. He made music seem like it was something ordinary people could do. His body of work was proof that the ordinary could be extraordinary. To me that’s the best kind of art.”
Ingrid Marie, Ingrid Marie Band: “I was deprived of all things pop or rock growing up because of my classical training, and I came to Bowie late on my musical path. When I was out of college and a friend watched Labyrinth with me, something snapped inside me and I began to reimagine childhood in songs. Bowie awakened the fantasy in me and my music from there forward. I began to follow the changes he went through and learned to reinvent as Bowie had. It was the most authentic turnaround to date for me.”
Greg Slamen, Cosmonaut on Vacation: “I didn’t know the man, obviously, but I admired his lyrics, wild chord changes and endless genre mutations. I listed to a lot of Low and Hunky Dory when I was making my last Cosmonaut on Vacation record. The drama and experimentation on both of those records served as inspiring reminders that no matter what else, if you believe in the art you’re making, it’s good.”
Justin Sawhill, Awesome Bastard: “I’ve been listening to Bowie and playing his music in bands for about 15 years… The thing that I love most about his work is his refusal to repeat himself. He was always trying to discover something and reach into new places, no matter how absurd or scary those places looked to other people. That characteristic, more than any other, I hope to have inherited from him. I’m a better songwriter for having listened to him.”
Andy Harris, The Old Paints: “For me, Bowie’s impact is high-quality songwriting. Songs are still the most important thing. People talk a lot about his image and the persona and I get it. All that extra stuff is fantastic, but at the end of day, the songs matter more. Some people get by on flashy persona and hype and less than great material. Bowie had a great image and great songs album after album. Some people just don’t settle for less.”
Mike Gaut, Capsized: “Bowie’s influence to me has been more cultural than musical. This man had the greatest eye for talent! … Whenever he recognized talent no matter what form it was in he did his best to expose it to the masses.”
Devin “Deeslim” Collins, Owner/Music Manager, Clockwork 247 Entertainment, LLC: “Yes, David Bowie played a significant role in my journey with music, but it wasn’t a direct one. With me and my company primarily in the hip-hop genre, we studied the greats from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s and realized that he influenced a lot of the artistry we look up to today, from Puff Daddy to Ice Cube to Jay Z.”
Nathan Peek, Nathan Peek and the New Thread: “Bowie inspired the way I try to blur the edges when telling a story. I’d convince myself that I understood the message he was trying to convey, all the while turning the song every which way, upside down and inside out in order to align all that I heard with my own assumptions.”
Gigi Scott, Gigi Scott and Trouble Town: “Bowie taught me it is fine to ask about life’s big picture in songs. So, it’s okay to avoid a formula or ignore the latest musical fad… It’s a good thing to ponder life’s big questions and to use poetic license in our songs. If you want a song to be art, treat it like it is art. Art has no rules. And it’s good to borrow from fiction or poetry, such as creating characters or using dramatic monologue in your lyrics. Bowie was a huge influence on my music and made me understand that to express yourself fully, you can’t follow conventions.”
Chayse Porter, The Urns: “David Bowie had a tremendous impact on [the Urns’] respective lives, not only musically, but developmentally. If not for Bowie’s work, we would not have grown to embrace the strange, unique qualities that set us apart from one another — the very same qualities that would bring us together as friends and musicians. Bowie taught us that it’s okay to be yourself; it’s cool to be weird. The bravery displayed through his art is an inspiration to all. Simply put, he is the embodiment of individuality and the paragon of rock and roll.”
David Phipps, Perilous Cole: “I’ve been under Bowie’s spell since I first saw him on TV as a seven or eight-year-old. He was suspended over the audience in an office chair, singing into a telephone. That image is still with me today, and outside of people that I actually know, he’s been the single biggest influence on who I’ve become since that fateful, yet otherwise ordinary, day when my mother let me watch TV before dinner.”
Travis Swinford, Plains and Holy Youth: “David Bowie offered something special to rock and roll and music in general — he showed that image is constantly evolving. Change is a necessary part of an artist. Dylan said it too. Bowie taught us not to be afraid of our imagination and guiding inner child — it will lead us to more inspiration and places than we could imagine.”
Drew Price: “My entire social media feed [on Monday] consisted of Birmingham artists expressing what an inspiration Bowie was. What more can you say?”