David Bowie Was A Sci-Fi Hero
David Bowie wrote anthems for sci-fi and fantasy nerds everywhere. His album titles—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and his latest, Blackstar—could have doubled for the titles of genre movies (or Doctor Who episodes). “Starman” was prominently featured in Ridley Scott’s The Martian last fall. Actual astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded a version of the musician’s first hit, “Space Oddity,” aboard the International Space Station in 2013. His “Life on Mars” lent its title and music to an excellent BBC sci-fi crime drama. Bowie’s work had more of an impact on sci-fi and fantasy than any other artist we can think of. He managed to be decades ahead of the rest of us, embodying the future, but bringing us along with him to see it.
Here are six (of the many, many) things he showed us that we’ll never forget:
An alien that was more than just an icy, one-dimensional invader. In Nicolas Roeg‘s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie played an extraterrestrial that we could identify with—one who was susceptible to human vices like alcohol, terrible television, and love.
That ageing is a privilege. In Tony Scott’s The Hunger, Bowie played a vampire deluded into thinking he’ll get to hold onto his youth forever. Instead, he’s condemned to decline rapidly and spend eternity in a hellish limbo far worse than death. For us non-vampires, death is inevitable, but only the lucky get old.
How much fun it is to be scared. If you were a kid when the 1986 adventure/fantasy film Jim Henson‘s Labyrinth came out, Bowie’s baby-stealing Goblin King probably gave you a nightmare or two. And yet your VHS copy was so well-worn.
That the right cameo can make a movie. Exhibit A: Bowie’s brief appearance in David Lynch‘s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
That magic and science share close ties. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige featured Bowie as Nikola Tesla and paralleled the competition between inventors Tesla and Thomas Edison with the rivalry between the leading magicians of the day. The movie is just one of many examples of Bowie embracing fantasy and sci-fi with equal enthusiasm.
How music is an indispensable tool for other artists. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell, and Wes Anderson owe a great debt to Bowie. This scene from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is proof:
For a lot of us, Bowie’s death at age 69 leaves a hole in the world—one so wonderfully irregularly shaped that it will be impossible to fill. But one social media sage tweeted a message that resonates perfectly: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”