David Bowie, who passed away over the weekend right after his 69th birthday and the release of his new album, Blackstar, might not immediately seem like he has much of an influence on AP's universe.
But without his fearlessness and curiosity, music as we know it would be radically different. Every band or solo artist who's decided to rip up their playbook and start again owes a debt to Bowie, who made a career out of reshaping his appearance to suit his creative whims. His personas were iconic and striking: the flame-haired Ziggy Stardust, the distant-but-dapper Thin White Duke, bleach-blond MTV icon and spiky-haired electropunk alien. So when Andy Biersack decides to reemerge as Andy Black—or Brendon Urie indulges his not-so-inner Sinatra on Panic! At The Disco's new LP, Death Of A Bachelor—they're following the precedent set by Bowie.
Along with his identity shifts, Bowie was relentless about exploring different genres and sounds. You name it, he probably tried it—crunchy glam rock, blue-eyed soul, proto-disco, synthgoth, danceable funk, creepy synthpop, industrial rock, jazzfunk, blues rock… the list goes on and on. Panic! At The Disco certainly fits into the category of a band who knows a little something about being hard to pigeonhole.
And, more obviously, My Chemical Romance in particular owed a debt to David Bowie's shapeshifting musical styles and commitment to striking visual imagery. It's no secret Bowie heavily influenced the approach and glam-rock sound of The Black Parade. After the release of his solo album, Hesitant Alien, frontman Gerard Way even told NME, “You can look at [the album] and go, 'Yeah he's trying to rip off Bowie,' but I've been ripping off Bowie my whole life so why stop now?”
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, however, it's clear Bowie was masterful at inspiring people. On an obvious level, look no further than William Control and AFI's chameleonic electrorock. But Bowie also meant a lot to countless other artists you might not expect. That was evident in the roundup of scene remembrances, where everyone from We Are Harlot and Circa Survive to Travis Barker and Brand New seemed gutted, and in the unexpected covers that have cropped up over the years: For example, Lucero once covered “Modern Love” for The A.V. Club.
Bowie's legacy also looms large in plenty of acts that rose in popularity during the '90s alt-rock boom—who in turn have inspired dozens of artists who have appeared in the pages of AP. On MTV Unplugged, Nirvana chose to cover Bowie's early single “The Man Who Sold The World,” and introduced the stark song to a whole new generation of fans. At the height of Nine Inch Nails' popularity, Trent Reznor teamed up with Bowie for a 1995 tour that saw the pair collaborating live on songs such as NIN's “Hurt” and Bowie's “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).” Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan was also an avowed fan and has covered songs such as “Space Oddity” live, while Foo Fighters performed the song “Hallo Spaceboy” with Bowie at his gala 50th birthday bash. Sonic Youth joined the icon for “I'm Afraid Of Americans.”
During the '90s, Bowie was getting more and more interested in technology and dabbling in social and political commentary. (In fact, he was somewhat of an internet pioneer, setting up a social network/portal for fans called BowieNet back in 1998!) But in the decades prior, he had solidified himself as someone who wasn't afraid to speak his mind and go against the grain. He embraced non-mainstream, radical ideas and views—for example, even when it was taboo, he spoke out about being gay and bisexual—and he became a beacon for anyone who felt like they didn't (or couldn't) belong. Being weird was okay. In fact, speaking your mind, even when it wasn't popular, was always Bowie's thing.
After his death, Hayley Williams tweeted, “Thx for showing me that you can live many lives inside one lifetime. A lot of hope in that.” Bowie indeed showed that people could reinvent themselves time and time again and succeed in the process. Paramore is certainly proof of that, as are bands such as the Maine and Fall Out Boy. (In fact, it's entirely unsurprising that several years ago, Patrick Stump performed a solo acoustic version of “Life On Mars?”)
Above all, Bowie was committed to living an artistic life, which meant he dabbled in all forms of creativity; his career is marked by forays into theater and movies, and filming galvanizing music videos. He didn't set limits on what he could achieve or accomplish, which meant he went in a staggering amount of interesting, unexpected directions.
That's Bowie's legacy—more than his music, he showed people a way to live without regrets and without fear. No matter your age, fandom or life experience, that's a lesson we can all relate to and try to follow moving forward.