The world received heartbreaking news last night when we learned that legendary songwriter and artist David Bowie had passed away. The iconic creator passed away Sunday night following an 18-month battle with cancer, just two days after the release of his latest album, Blackstar.
Bowie’s massive music catalog has helped many cope with the sudden loss of one of the art world’s most iconic creators. For over 40 years, Bowie’s music has helped fans gain a greater understanding of the world and themselves. With that in mind, we’re pondering the big questions in life with David Bowie’s most existential songs.
One of David Bowie’s most well-known songs, “Space Oddity” tells the tale of astronaut Major Tom as he hurtles through space on a voyage through the cosmos. Though Tom initially maintains contact with Earth via Ground Control, he eventually loses touch with them altogether, floating through the stars all alone. The song clearly touches on themes of alienation, with Major Tom trapped by himself in the depths of space, left to float through life alone. But in some ways listeners get the sense that the beauty of space and the view of the planet Earth is comforting to the stranded astronaut, ultimately questioning the notion of a “lonely” or solitary life.
The Man Who Sold the World
The title track off of David Bowie’s third album tells the story of a man who mysteriously meets his doppelgänger, pushing him to examine his own existence. Bowie even adopts different singing styles to play the main character and his mirror, “the Man who Sold the World.” Like many of Bowie’s compositions, the song touches on themes of alienation and societal outcasts. But this time, it also references the duality of human nature and the notion of multiple personalities. Depending on the day, you might act like your usual self or morph into your own version of “The Man Who Sold the World.”
David Bowie’s mega-hit “Changes” might seem like simple, light pop, but it’s super catchy composition hides a deceptively meaningful song. The lyrics can be read as a direct reference to Bowie’s chameleonic career. “Time may change me/but I can’t trace time,” sings Bowie, showing that while he might change from year to year, in the end that’s of little importance. Instead, what’s more meaningful is what you’re doing with your life and how you’re impacting people in the present.
Another classic Bowie track, “Starman” from the singer’s iconic 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, foretells the coming of an almighty alien known as Starman, bringing a message of hope to the world. The song has a clear religious undercurrent, with Starman’s coming serving as a representation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Singing as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie professes the power of Starman, but ultimately it’s up to the listener to ponder the message of the extraterrestrial deity.
Few of Bowie’s songs confront existential questions of life quite as directly as “Slow Burn” from his 2002 album Heathen. The song serves as Bowie’s direct questioning of life, with the lyrics repeatedly asking what’s the point of existence at all when there are so many problems in the world. “There’s fear overhead /There’s fear overground /Slow Burn,” sings Bowie, with the “Slow Burn” representing the endless turning of time until the bitter end of humanity. The question is a daunting one, and while Bowie’s song doesn’t have a direct answer it works to push listeners to consider their own lot in life and how they might turn the tides on the negative “Slow Burn” we all face on a daily basis.
Bowie was constantly changing his sound and experimenting with styles, clearly evidenced on his most recent release, Blackstar. The album, which dropped just two days before Bowie’s death, features some of the artist’s most surreal, experimental tracks. “Lazarus” is a perfect example of that, with dreamy saxophone and synthesizer overtones accompanying Bowie’s emotional lyrics. “I’ll be free, just like that bluebird,” sings Bowie, which seems like a knowing reference to the singer’s passing. The video, which features Bowie in a hospital bed singing to the heavens, almost feels like Bowie’s last gift to his fans. With “Lazarus,” Bowie gave the world one last glimpse into the beyond, reflecting on the meaning of death and its power over life.
Do you have a favorite David Bowie song we missed on our list? Let us know in the comments below.