David Bowie, who passed away two days after releasing his final album, had a deep influence on Seattle’s bands and gay-rights culture.
David Bowie, one of rock’s most legendary international icons, also had a profound effect on Seattle musicians. Shortly after his death was announced on Sunday, locals began posting their tributes on social media.
Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell wrote on Twitter: “140 characters will not suffice (nor would ten thousand words).” Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic tweeted “legendary” and “thank you for the music.” And Carrie Brownstein wrote: “It feels like we lost something elemental, as if an entire color is gone.”
Bowie died of cancer two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th album, “Blackstar.” The record received rave reviews.
Bowie’s contributions to music, celebrity and fashion influenced several generations, starting with his breakthrough in the ’60s in England. This week, his outsider role in the evolution of Seattle grunge is being re-examined.
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David Bowie’s ‘‘Lazarus’’
“He was obviously a cultural icon who influenced music on many levels,” said Jacob McMurray, senior curator of the EMP Museum. “But he influenced a lot of Seattle bands in the late ’80s, specifically Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam.”
Kurt Cobain owned Bowie albums, and when Nirvana included a surprising cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” in their 1993 “MTV Unplugged” performance, it introduced his music to a different generation. “That is the most iconic song from Nirvana’s most iconic concert,” McMurray said.
Bowie’s early-’70s glam phase was also a big influence on Seattle’s early punk rockers, including Rob Morgan of the band the Squirrels.
“As a kid growing up in Edmonds, when it seemed the whole world was into Aerosmith, Bowie spoke to me and other outcasts,” Morgan said. “The punk scene in Seattle was greatly influenced by glam and glitter, and Bowie shaped all that.”
Over the course of his long career, Bowie had many different personas and was one of the first rock stars to master the idea of reinvention. By frequently shifting his look and sound, McMurray said, “he kept himself relevant when other bands did not.”
Morgan echoed that: “Almost every major rock band that became huge eventually had people turn on them as sellouts — even the Rolling Stones. But with Bowie, he always kept that authenticity whether his albums sold a lot or only a little.”
Bowie played a number of Seattle concerts over the years, but his biggest local concerts were at the Tacoma Dome in 1983, 1990 and 1995. His last Seattle shows were two appearances on his 2004 tour. Morgan attended, and says he still has two giant weather-balloon eyeballs he grabbed from the stage after the 1997 concert.
His “Blackstar” album contains many hints at mortality, including a video for the song “Lazarus” that shows Bowie in a hospital bed. The singer often talked about mortality in his interviews.
“That’s the shock,” Bowie said in 2003. “All clichés are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is.”
KEXP spent Friday programming a special all-Bowie day for his birthday. The idea for that tribute came from musician Ben London, also of the Northwest Polite Society marketing agency.
“Our concept was that we wanted to draw attention to gender-equality issues on Capitol Hill,” London said. Bowie was an early supporter of gay rights — and with his own fashion and lifestyle choices, he was at the forefront of the cultural discussion about sexual identity.
London’s campaign included posters that were placed around Capitol Hill showing various stages of Bowie’s life, but London also approached KEXP with the idea of playing Bowie’s music, and the station jumped at the effort. Friday’s stream still is available online and continues to draw new listeners outside Seattle.
“In some ways, it was the perfect timing because often we eulogize and celebrate people only in death,” London said. “This show Friday was special because it celebrated Bowie’s work and influence while he was still alive. No one had any idea he was ill.”
And though fans like Morgan lament Bowie’s loss, he says it ends up as “one of the greatest ends” in all of rock ’n’ roll. “It’s mysterious, to die two days after your birthday and your album release,” Morgan said. “No matter how tragic it is to lose him, it’s also spectacular.
“It’s exactly the kind of thing,” Morgan added, “you would imagine only David Bowie could do.”