bowie and styleBy Bob Werber
David Bowie, who passed away this week at the age of 69, was routinely called an “icon” of fashion and style. In that, he joins a long list of musicians who helped redefine the “look” of an era.

But Bowie understood the meaning and function of style far better even than most in the fashion industry. He saw how each of us, from the flamboyant entertainer to the buttoned-down banker, dresses not just to look good but to show the world something about our inner selves. Everyday life is abundantly theatrical.

Even adorned so outrageously that you might be a little scared to see him coming down your street (a particularly wild outfit once prompted a sidewalk passerby to pull a gun on him), you always saw a little of yourself in him. “I’m working class” he told a BBC interviewer in 1999, even though he was by then a millionaire many times over. The space alien, the thin white duke and all the other characters were, beneath the skin, average Joes trying to shine a personal light on the world.

Beyond his formidable musical talent, a big reason Bowie resonates is that he put style in the service of substance. The look was meant to shock, but even more, it was meant to draw your attention to songs that were full of longing, sadness and loneliness. In a New York Times obituary, Jon Pareles described Bowie’s approach as “something constructed and inflated yet sincere in it’s artifice, saying more than naturalism could.” Legions of imitators have managed to copy the construction, but struggled to find the sincerity.

In losing David Bowie, we don’t just lose a someone worth watching. We lose someone who held up a mirror showing who we all are beneath the cloth.

Herewith, a few great lesser-known tunes from the Bowie library:

“Win,” from Young Americans, 1975:

“Thursday’s Child,” from Hours, 2000:

“Oh You Pretty Things,” from Hunky Dory, 1971:

“I’m Afraid of Americans,” from Earthling, 1997:

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