When it comes to musicians, the title, artist gets thrown around fairly loosely. In the movie The Departed, Jack Nicholson quotes John Lennon as saying, “I’m an artist, give me a tuba and I’ll get you something out of it.” I’m not sure if that’s a real quote or not but it definitely holds true for someone of John Lennon’s ilk. So far, this calendar year has not been kind to true artists. In January we lost one of the most admired musicians and true artists still producing music and art, David Bowie. Yesterday one of the last of these people also suddenly passed away at the young age of 57, Prince.
I tried finding a picture or some inclination that Bowie and Prince had ever crossed paths or perhaps performed together and couldn’t find anything. I found that really unfortunate. These were two of the most original and ever evolving musicians and artists of their time. Granted, I’m sure people will make arguments in favor of others, such as Captain Beefheart or other underground art rockers, and of course you have to recognize people such as Lou Reed, but Bowie and Prince never had a period where the music was failing and lacking. They did have periods where their popularity wasn’t always on top, but the music and their art never disappointed. The thought of some sort of collaboration between these two giants is almost enough to make music lovers weep over the thought of what could have been.
These two men had so much more in common than you might think at first thought. To say they were both groundbreaking would be an understatement. Bowie spoke to an audience of youth who felt outcast and lost in their current world. He told them that being whatever you feel inside is ok and lead them in a direction they never would have gone. Prince did the same for a different group and generation. Their music would go beyond any genre, it cannot and never should be categorized. It is for everyone because they poured out emotions and feelings and never played to please a certain demographic, their demographic was anyone.
The musical world’s current state is stale and basic. It is very possible that no one may ever blaze a path the way these men did and speak to as wide an audience as they did. Their influence was unmistakable, from the music we heard, to their personas and even as fashion icons. Musicians can wear the most outrageous things they can find all they want these days, it’s for show and flash, Bowie and Prince did it because it was their actual style, they didn’t know any other way. They were pure fashion icons in every sense.
The similarities in phases of their careers and questions they raised is nothing short of extraordinary. Both were considered androgynous and raised questions about their sexuality. Neither was shy about pushing buttons with stage performances and lifestyle. Prince is widely credited with being a major reason for having a parental advisory sticker on albums to this day. They even had brilliant ways of creating worlds and carried on Pete Townsend’s idea of the rock opera. Bowie created a whole world and a story around his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Prince created Purple Rain with an album and a movie about a talented kid with a tumultuous life. Both albums were some of the biggest moments in their careers.
It’s always tragic when great artists pass away early and unexpectedly like SO many have done, but maybe they put a serious strain on themselves by pouring out their genius for our enjoyment. When our friends and loved ones we rarely have more than memories and pictures to remember them, with those like Bowie and Prince, they have left all of that and more, their art and the ability to feel everything we always have every time we listen to it. Here’s hoping this is the end of these huge losses for quite some time.