Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A few thoughts about Bowie

The room at the top of my mum's house was dark and a bit musty, full of model aeroplanes and books. Still is. But that was where my brothers kept their record collections.

In one room there were Beatles and Sisters of Mercy LPs. In the other, a Bowie collection. It was from these records that I first heard Station To Station, Ziggy Stardust, Space Oddity and Hunky Dory. (Oddly, I only came to Low and 'Heroes' much later, and was blown away by how modern they sounded, how I could see the clear lineage between these albums and those of my other favourites, Radiohead.)

David Bowie reminds me of home. My sister playing me “The Laughing Gnome” when I was a kid. Being taken to see Labyrinth (and when we got our first VCR I recorded the film off the telly and watched it daily). My dad taking the piss out of his mannered singing style (a bit rich, frankly, given that he was an opera fan!). Playing tapes with my oldest mates. Me and Peter were CB radio nerds. We used to broadcast out to the taxi drivers and other weirdos and jam the airwaves with tracks off Space Oddity. Bowie's genius was that – even though he was a global rock star – he always felt like yours. I think, to a degree, we felt like we were the first to discover him.

I am aware of how old I sound right now. I'm 35. And no, I don't want to know what Bowie had already done at my age.

Over the years my Bowie listening has drifted in and out of focus, but he's always been there. I listen to “proper” dance now because of his much-derided, actually-pretty-great drum 'n' bass album, Earthling (or is it Eart hl ing? I've never been sure). My interest in soul started with Young Americans. And it's not just music – I read 1984 because I was obsessing on Diamond Dogs. 1. Outside fed off of and fuelled an interest in cyberpunk. He's even in Twin Peaks, my favourite fictional world.

No matter who or what you've been

I had a bit of a bad time a while back, linked to the depression I've struggled with since I was a teenager and my dad died. But I still had Bowie. In 2013 I spent a fun weekend with friends in London and, on the last day, decided to check out the David Bowie Is exhibition. I'd read the reviews, but I remember expecting something small that I'd nip in, then out, then get on the train home to Bath. As you entered there was a sign that stated 45 minutes was the average viewing time.

I was in there for four hours.

Three bits leaped out at me from that show, for different reasons.
  1. “The Man Who Sold The World” video with Klaus Nomi. It seen it before in YouTube blur-o-vision, but here it was pristine and gloriously, bogglingly weird.
  2. The “Boys Keep Swinging” video. One of the weirder things that's happened to me in recent years is the Lodger has become my favourite of the Berlin trilogy, and here's one of its best tracks with Bowie in drag and cool as fuck.
  3. The end of the exhibition. It was an enormous hall, with screens on all sides projecting various Bowie videos. And on one of them was “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide”.
So here's a thing – I don't rate the Ziggy Stardust album that highly. Hey, some great songs for sure, but it's no Hunky Dory, or Low, or Station To Station, or...

But then “Rock 'n' Roll Suicide” came on. And Bowie sang “Oh no love, you're not alone” and, man, I cried hard in the middle of the V&A. The video ended, and I sat there and let it cycle around. And again. And again. I know I'm not the only one who had that experience. In fact, from talking to others, mine was one of the more moderate reactions.

That was a big moment for me. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was that precise point that I realised that things would be OK. Hey, David Bowie got through worse than this! Maybe I could ease back on the booze and other stupid things that were propping me up at the time?

Heaven loves ya

One more memory: last Friday. I was the first person to walk into HMV Bath that morning. I grabbed the CD and vinyl copies and then... paused.

I buy a lot of vinyl. Like, a shit load. A few months back I decided to cut back on that. And I chose not to buy Blackstar on black wax. It was more than twice as expensive as the CD and the cover was bleeding horrible (now I think that star is a piece of hilariously self-aggrandising genius on DB's part). 'I'll pick it up later,' I thought. 'There'll be an expanded edition out at Christmas, no doubt, and another album next year.'

David Bowie died two days ago. I still don't really understand what that means. There were so many David Bowies and we've already said goodbye to many of them that I think it's going to be a while before it sinks in that there will be no more.

It's not even about the music, at this point. After Reality I was resigned to there being no more records, so everything since has felt like a lovely bonus, but it just felt right that he was in the world. He was hanging out with Tilda Swinton and reading novels and being a family man. And good for him. If anyone had earned it...

And now he's gone, his death as stylish as anything he did in life. Yesterday, when I wrote the first draft of this, was sad. But after seeing the reaction to his passing, I feel heartened. It's nice to hear how many lives he touched. Maybe Lodger will get the reappraisal it deserves, now, cos honestly it's fucking great.

I didn't know how to end this, so I decided to take some inspiration from Big Dave and rely on the randomness of the universe. I put my Bowie album playlist on shuffle and planned to use a quote from the first track. iTunes picked “Neighbourhood Threat” from Tonight. Fucking hilarious – a forgettable track, and a cover at that, from an album that even he would happily admit was a contender for his worst. But never mind, eh? I'll just hit shuffle again and who knows what will come up? Glam rock? Ambient music? R&B? A spoken-word interlude about Baby Grace Blue followed by goth techno?

Godspeed, David.

Will xxx


Tim S said...

....."We used to broadcast out to the taxi drivers and other weirdos and jam the airwaves with tracks off Space Oddity. "

we also did this with the Pinky and Perky album Bill!! ;) ha....remember 4 of doing that.

Unknown said...

Hello SpaceBoy. Nina Kinsey sent me the link to this gorgeous piece of writing. I am 56 and my Hunky Dory memory is of huddling, in my early teens - 12 or 13 - against a small radiator in my bedroom (parents house not properly centrally heated then). I liked that you mentioned 1.Outside and Earthling. I had been playing 'Low Symphony', interpretation of that great album, a lot since October. On the 10th January when I was chatting to a friend about when we went to see Glass Spider and Tin Machine (and I saw Bowie many times), I did say everything is so quiet really, I just know one day soon we will get some bad news ....yes, agree with you, The Next Day and Blackstar are bonuses. Not listened to Blackstar yet, didn't buy it Friday, I'd had this awful lurking sense, I'm saving it for when all the media fuss has evaporated and I can enjoy it without strange feeling of loss, mixed with elation, and a fair bit of 'I told you so' to all my friends and acquaintances who said I was always biased, no-one could ever be that good, so consistently - and he was! He was our secret wasn't he Will?

CrackedActress said...
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CrackedActress said...
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CrackedActress said...

Found this on the Wonderworld site, this would be so fitting and appropriate.


2 pevious postings removed as I forgot put the link in the first one.