Sci-Fi And Fantasy Owe A Huge Debt Of Gratitude To David Bowie
This morning, many music fans woke up to the disturbing news that David Bowie had passed away. As tributes poured in, marking both the man's acting and music career, one thing became apparent: Bowie wasn't just a musical icon, but also influenced the science fiction and fantasy genres in a big way.
From his performance as the Goblin King in Labyrinth to songs he wrote about life in space to the music videos he created that were often abstract representations of sci-fi and fantasy, Bowie lived comfortably in both genres and remains an influence within them.
In 2013, Bowie was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and his impact can still be felt within the genre today.
Bowie's first hit as a musician was a 1969 song about a man trapped in space, "Space Oddity." The song embodies how it feels to be alone in the universe, a topic Bowie would continue to cover in much of his following material. It's likely that the song found some inspiration from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, although "Space Oddity" was also released shortly after man first landed on the moon.
Since then, the song has become an iconic theme of space travel, especially after astronaut Chris Hadfield covered it from space while aboard the International Space Station.
"Space Oddity" is often seen in movies, too, and serves as a background theme for a montage in Ridley Scott's most recent film, The Martian.
Bowie soon embraced his own style, both in music and fashion, that was alien in and of itself, eventually leading to the persona he took on with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. On that album, Ziggy is a Martian who tries to save Earth from destruction by playing guitar.
Bowie eventually released Diamond Dogs, which began its life as a musical version of George Orwell's 1984, but because of copyright, eventually became an album about a future dystopian version of the U.K.
But Bowie wasn't content influencing science fiction and fantasy just through music. He also took to acting, including a film called The Man Who Fell To Earth about an alien who lands on Earth with the mission of building a large spacecraft that will carry his people away from their dying world.
Bowie also portrayed a vampire in the 1983 classic horror film The Hunger.
However, Bowie's most recognizable role to date is as the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth, a performance that stole the movie away from his co-stars. Bowie also performed several memorable musical numbers for that film, including "Magic Dance." To date, Labyrinth remains a cult classic, mostly due to Bowie's performance in it.
"Actually, there is a generation that kind of know about Labyrinth, which is the kids' film I made," said Bowie in an interview with the Australian 60 Minutes. "Kids are brought up to me and their mums say, 'This is Jareth, from Labyrinth.' "
Bowie continued his acting career into the new millennium, eventually even appearing as Nikola Tesla in 2006's The Prestige.
Although Bowie inspired other musicians and actors that would follow him, he also had an influence in comic books. The character of Lucifer, from the Vertigo comic book series of the same name, gets his looks from the actor and musician. When Neil Gaiman reimagined the King of Hell for the Lucifer comic in 1989, he only thought of him as resembling David Bowie.
"You must draw David Bowie," said Gaiman, according to artist Kelly Jones. "Find David Bowie, or I'll send you David Bowie. Because if it isn't David Bowie, you're going to have to redo it until it is David Bowie."
The comic book, which finds inspiration from John Milton's Paradise Lost, was a hit, probably because the artists agreed and designed the character after Bowie. To date, the comics version of Lucifer remains popular, so much so that he just got his own television series on Fox.
Bowie was also featured in a comic book dedicated to his life, issue #56 of Rock N' Roll Comics.
The Music Videos
The 1980s brought a new art form to the spotlight: the music video, and David Bowie, being a man well ahead of his time, embraced this new medium and used it to tell stories that went beyond his music. However, it is the videos from his most recent album, Blackstar, that will offer inspiration to musicians, filmmakers and other artists in the future.
Take the video for the title track from the album, "Blackstar:" it's a 10-minute journey into a science fiction tale that leaves the viewer wanting more. It's an ode to Bowie's weird sci-fi trippiness, a piece of art way ahead of its time. The video begins with a dead astronaut, but eventually shows an alien woman opening up the astronaut's helmet to remove a skull encrusted with jewels. That skull eventually becomes an object of worship for a strange cult while Bowie sings in the background, costumed as a blind man.
Bowie followed that up with a video for "Lazarus," which was only released this week, and it's even eerier to watch now because it shows Bowie in a hospital bed, his eyes covered with bandages, two buttons placed across them. The song perhaps serving as an epitaph prophetically written before his death with lyrics, such as "Look up here, I'm in heaven."