David Bowie: The Pulse Returns to the Prodigal

What do we learn from the complicated legacy of a beloved icon?
David Bowie: The Pulse Returns to the Prodigal
David Bowie, who died on January 10, 2016 in New York City.

You have to hand it to David Bowie. He certainly knew how to be the party—and how to break up the party. On Sunday night, just as Hollywood celebrities were arriving at their post-Golden Globe awards events, the laughter reportedly died down and a hush fell across the revelers: Bowie was dead at 69 from cancer.

David Bowie turned toasts into conversations about memento mori.

His death stunned everybody. Just a month earlier, he had appeared at the opening of his off-Broadway show Lazarus, and, as always, he looked great. Three days earlier, he released his most ambitious record in recent memory—a progressive jazz tour de force. We had seen him in brand new music videos which bewildered us.

To the art world, he seemed transcendent. In film, he held multiple generations transfixed. To fans, he gave hope that you could always reinvent yourself, that you need not stay mired in the same role or life phase. In the cartoon The Venture Bros, he appeared simply as “The Sovereign,” a benevolent force for good working mysteriously behind the scenes of the cosmos. Arguably no celebrity meant this much to that many people since John Lennon.

Perhaps most of all, in death, Bowie taught us something about how to die. He did not make his fight with cancer a publicity spectacle. He died with dignity, in quiet, with his family.

To the Christian community, however, the early Bowie initially seemed to some like an existential threat. His gender-bending characters in the ’70s on albums like Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust had pastors and church leaders alarmed.

To Larry Norman—the Jesus Movement rock icon—Ziggy represented the lostness of the new generation of music. ...

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