Robert Smith would tell you he would still be wearing trenchcoats, trying to learn Hendrix songs if he hadn’t heard Low, which Smith calls the greatest album ever made. He also an claims it had more of an impact on him than any other album. A 14-year-old Siouxsie Sioux saw Bowie on “Top of the Pops” and her life was changed. Where would Peter Murphy be without David Bowie? Jim Morrison might have opened the doors to rock music taking on a darker introspection, but would goth culture be what it is today without Bowie? Goth sprang from punk in the early 80s. Punk rockers might be the toxic love children of Ziggy Stardust, but by the time bright liberty spikes began to rise in 1977, Bowie had already moved on to Berlin, where he was making surreal art rock with Robert Fripp. He could never be defined by one persona or sound, and perhaps this is where goth culture learned a much greater lesson.
My first immersion into Bowie occurred in 1986, when I went to see a movie called Labyrinth. It was midway into the film when the Goblin King was reminded of the Babe, that it clicked that this was the guy who sang the “China Girl” song I liked from the roller rink. I left the theater, and that afternoon my grandparents bought me the cassette versions of the movie’s soundtrack and Let’s Dance. Up until this point in my elementary school career as a music critic, the only album I owned that was not Kiss, Twisted Sister, Alice Cooper, W.A.S.P or Ozzy was Prince’s Purple Rain. So Bowie opened up another sonic spectrum for me. “Cat People” proved you could make music that was dark without being metal. Then when I saw Bowie on the Glass Spider Tour in 1987, my mind was blown. I was still pretty devoted to metal, but through Bowie I discovered Iggy Pop, and September of 1987 found Darklands by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which slowly began to open the floodgates. It was in High School when my girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of Only Theater of Pain that the dam burst with The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and Skinny Puppy not far behind. By then, I didn’t give a fuck if my tastes neatly fit into any scene, because Bowie taught me to embrace the music that moves you, be it soul or British folk.
Skinny Puppy, of course, sounds nothing like the Cocteau Twins. But both are embraced by the goth scene. The same could be said for any of the seminal “goth” icons, as they all drew inspiration from one of Bowie’s many incarnations, and learned from his music they could be heroes, spiders from mars or scary monsters and super creeps. Sure, Bowie might have played a hand in some of goth culture’s most iconic moments, like the opening scene from this little vampire movie he starred in called The Hunger, where “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” has never had a more fitting backdrop. How many members of New Romantic bands appeared in the “Ashes to Ashes” video? Before Elizabeth Fraser stepped into a recording booth, Bowie had already sung in his own self-invented language on “Subterraneans.” Even my skeptical metal head friends have to give credit where it’s due, as even Gene Simmons has admitted to Bowie being a huge influence, and we don’t even want to get into the impact Kiss had on metal.
If you are like me, perhaps you can relate to the scene at the beginning of the Joy Division biopic Control, where Ian Curtis is depicted striking his best Bowie poses in the mirror. While every hipster on Facebook is frantically downloading Bowie’s discography, it is going to be a few days before the sting is gone and I can listen to Bowie again. Bowie might have left us on a high note with Blackstar as an epitaph, but his legend also continues to be felt in the music he opened the gates for.