The David Bowie display at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has now closed, but hopefully other cities may host a similar show. Over 400 items were on display, each representing the varied phases of Bowie’s illustrious career.
While the show was extraordinary, it could not possibly present a complete picture of Bowie. After all, the man was much, much more than a rock star.
His music ranged from the acoustic treasures found on Hunky Dory to the power rock of Ziggy Stardust to the electronic beats on “Let’s Dance.” In between there was the jazzy period of “Young Americans” and the disco-esque “Fame.”
The display barely touched on Bowie’s career as an actor, even though he has worked in over twenty films. Bowie won a best actor award in 1976 for his lead role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, co-starred with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger, and more recently portrayed Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.
Too often overlooked, even by the creators of the museum show, is Bowie’s vital role as a rock pioneer. Not only has he been famously regarded as one of the first musicians to challenge gender boundaries, but he also established firsts in several other aspects of music.
Bowie became the first artist to ever collaborate with the band Queen, when in 1982 they hit the charts with “Under Pressure.” Before that, Freddie Mercury’s group had enlisted no outside assistance on their eight studio albums.
He also was the first rock star to sing a duet with Bing Crosby, a pairing which helped bridge the gap between not only music genres but also several generations. The two sang a beautiful version of “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” in a 1977 TV special.
The man known as Ziggy Stardust also made headlines by becoming the first white rock star to appear on Don Cornelius’s “Soul Train.” Before the overwhelmingly black audience and studio dancers, Bowie performed his 1975 hit “Fame.”
Almost 45 years after its 1970 release, his album The Man Who Sold the World has been deemed the as the birth of glam rock. It was heavily influential for bands like T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, and Queen, and even Kirt Cobain’s 90s grunge band Nirvana charted with its cover version of the album’s title track.