Needless to say, any embryonic talent who saw David Bowie perform in the 70s ended up going on to be influenced by him: Joy Division, Sex Pistols, Morrissey, et. al. But the one artist that would truly absorb his style–his penchant for androgyny and provocation is Madonna. On June 22, 1974, David Bowie played Cobo Hall (before it was Cobo Arena) in Detroit as one of the many stops on his Diamond Dogs Tour. Madonna was 15 at the time (her sixteenth birthday then looming in August). She was only in the initial phases of her rebellion, and to see Bowie was to solidify the need within her to be something more.
As then one of the most expensive productions of the time for a stage tour, it would become clear to Madonna that there was more to music than just the vocals themselves–there was an entirely more important component altogether: theatricality. Indeed, the surrealist set designs would undoubtedly spur Madonna on to create one of her greatest stage shows, Blond Ambition Tour. Madonna, of course, would eventually meet Bowie during her meteoric rise to icon status, and Bowie would show nothing but the utmost of respect for “what she does.”
Their kismet connection would prompt Madonna to present and accept on his behalf the award for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. During her speech, she professed his profound influence on her during a time in her life when she felt misunderstood, weird and generally out of place. This sentiment would be echoed on the day of his death, when Madonna wrote that she “was so inspired by the way he played with gender confusion,” a display in his art that would lead Madonna to gender confusions of her own, as with the video for “Justify My Love,” the Sex book and the Erotica album.
Her commitment to reinvention, and adopting the same chameleon-like tendencies of Bowie, has also led her to a career as lengthy and fruitful as his–though, naturally, because she’s a woman, people have been less welcoming of her later work than Bowie’s.
There is, of course, no question that Madonna was always going to be famous–her drive, determination and sheer force of will couldn’t have made it otherwise. But, as she said herself, there’s no denying that Bowie “changed the course of [her] life forever,” pushing her to a new level of artistry that has, in its own right, shaped countless other musicians.