Every year, we expect that a few of our icons will leave us, but when we lose several within such a short period, it really hurts. 2016 has already had unusually high losses in the music industry, not to mention the tragic passing of Natalie Cole, and Lemmy the last week of 2015. For me though, as a songwriter, it was a particularly big blow to hear the news about David Bowie, followed so quickly by Glen Frey. Although their styles were quite different, I have drawn much inspiration from both Bowie, and Frey (collectively with the Eagles).
When I was a boy, growing up in Nashville with my parents writing Country music, we either listened to the Country hits on the radio (so my parents could make sure their writing was staying current), or classics like the Eagles, Bee Gees, Beatles and anything else lucky enough to be included in their company. As a family of singers, we would all pick our harmony parts on the various Eagles’ songs, and sing along. We always marveled at how tight their harmony was, even tighter than most family harmony could achieve (and before auto-tune mind you). What attracted me to the writing was although they were exceptional songs, when you study them, it becomes clear they were written in a very traditional, compact, professional Country-type format. In fact, many have speculated that if the Eagles had been released 20 or 30 years later than they were, they would have been mainly featured on Country radio – a claim largely vindicated by the airplay received for the release of their 2007 album “Long Road Out of Eden.” Granted, some songs like “Hotel California” or “Life in the Fast Lane” were definitely Rock, and not Country, think of “Take It Easy,” “Best of My Love,” and “Lyin’ Eyes”, and imagine it sung with a little more twang, and they would be right in the thick of Country music. When I write Country songs, I still compare my songs to the Eagles among other greats. I distinctly remember an interview Glen gave where he spoke of himself and Don Henley, before they were famous, going to a concert of a very famous group at the time. After the concert, he said they both looked at each other and said, “we’ve got to start writing better songs.” He never explained how they figured out how to write better songs, but they certainly did, and for my own sake as a songwriter, I’m very glad they did, and Glen will certainly be missed.
Now as for David Bowie, growing up, other than my mother playing “Fame” repeatedly, and hearing the occasional movie placement, he was not a staple in my musical upbringing. His music became an influence for me later as I looked to expand into writing Pop and beyond. Words can’t really express what he has done for music, or how he combined it with fashion, and became such an icon in multiple fields. For me, when I think of David Bowie, I instantly hear “Golden Years.” What was it about that song that I can’t stop singing? Why is it that I wait for those hand claps, and feel so satisfied every time they come around? Such a simple thing that is so inconceivable to achieve for most mere mortals. It’s just a song right? Freedom is the word that comes to mind. In the same way that I love the definite, structured form of the Eagles music, I have an equal and opposite love for the free-flowing, unconstrained creativity that emanated from David Bowie (or his alter ego’s).
Losing two greats from both sides of my musical fence is a huge hit to start off the new year, but the great thing about being an artist is nothing can truly kill you. Your life just gets spread out a little bit at a time into millions of people, songs, fashions, movies, and ideas. At least, that’s what we all hope for, and something they more than earned.