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David Bowie: Technophile

Posted January 13, 2016 2:58 PM by HUSH

The musical world lost an icon on January 10. David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, passed away from liver cancer, two days after his 69th birthday coincided with the release of his 25th studio album.

Needless to say, artists from all over will mourn his passing, as so many already have. Yet David Bowie also helped shape our technologies in both overt and subtle ways.

Let's begin with his early career. After almost 10 years of seeking fame as the lead singer of fledgling London blues and rock bands in the 1960s, Bowie began to promote himself as a solo artist. He found some initial success, and in 1969 published Space Oddity, a five-minute-long track that he wrote after watching Stanley Kubrick's 1968 sci-fi film, 2001: a Space Odyssey. The film wasn't an immediate success, but nonetheless influenced many from the first space generation, among them Bowie.

Of course you've heard the song before, but here is the obligatory link to the original music video on YouTube. Thus began the narrative of Major Tom, an allegorical (and semi-autobiographical) astronaut coping with being human in a completely foreign environment. Originally the album's producer didn't want Bowie to record the track, as he believed Bowie was trying to cash-in on the hype around Apollo 11. Even if true, Bowie created a song that will forever be associated with space. It was used by the BBC as background music when BBC broadcast the Apollo 11 moon landing. Later it would be the first song performed in space, when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield strummed the tune aboard the ISS. Space exploration continued to be influential to Bowie. In 1971 he released Life on Mars. He played an alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. As Ziggy Stardust, he released Starman. His son Duncan is a science fiction director. The list goes on.

Yet Bowie earned his stripes as a true technologist with his love of computers and the internet. He encouraged fans to cut fan videos for his 1994 single Jump by including software in the package. In 1997 he cybercast one of his concerts, even if most internet speeds meant most people couldn't watch. In 1998, Bowie was the first artist to use the web to distribute his work when he offered the single Telling Lies for download from his official website, accompanied by an online chat session. Two years later, Bowie would start his own internet service provider, BowieNet. For $20 a month, U.S. and U.K. residents would get online access, an @DavidBowie.com mailing address, a homepage that they could build and customize, as well as exclusive media and chats with Bowie and other artists. In a 2000 interview with FACT Magazine, Bowie described his vision for an internet where the artist is "demystified" to the audience by platforms on the internet-akin to modern social media. BowieNet lived until 2012 and most of its content was lost by its shutter.

As an entertainer, Bowie was extravagant and garish. He challenged preconceptions and wasn't afraid to take risks. It turns out these attributes also help entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

God speed, Major Tom.

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#1

Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/13/2016 3:14 PM

My sister was (and still is) a huge David Bowie fan. I remember listening to many of his albums that she owned back in the good old days. He was definitely a cutting edge musician and it is warming to read about his interest in science and technology.

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#2

Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/13/2016 8:32 PM

Not only did he have a fervent imagination, he really had an extraordinary voice.

It wasn't until I heard him sing for some Christmas special that I understood just how good he really was.

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#3
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Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/13/2016 11:41 PM

If it's the song he sang with Bing Crosby, there's and interesting back story to it.

Two, actually.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby's Christmas Duet: How it happened

Crosby died shorty after this.

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#4
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Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/14/2016 8:20 AM

Could be. I don't remember.

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#5
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Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/14/2016 8:29 AM

So, it didn't exactly make a lasting impression?

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#6
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Re: David Bowie: Technophile

01/14/2016 8:20 PM

I remember seeing it by chance and I didn't hang around to listen to the whole show.

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