I was somewhere over the Atlantic when the news about the death of David Bowie broke. As the 747 landed at Gatwick, practically a plane full of text messages rang out in unison. I saw dozens of faces I knew on the flight, and all were truly distraught at the passing of one of the true greats of the music business. Whether it’s the jet lag or the January weather getting to me, there’s a sense that music’s light got a bit dimmer today that I just can’t shake off.
All of us have a specific ‘Bowie’ that resonates; the ‘Space Oddity’ era, the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ era, the ‘plastic soul’ time, the ‘Thin White Duke’ era, the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ new romantic phase, the sharp suited ‘Serious Moonlight’ stage, his EDM era, the Neoclassicist time, and what will be called his final years (starting with The Next Day released in 2013 and culminating in Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday and two days before his death).
I was eight years old when David Bowie played ‘Starman’ on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops TV programme. I was too young to understand just how revolutionary this androgynous man in a multicolour jump suit was, and I certainly didn’t get the significance of seeing him drape himself around guitarist Mick Ronson. All I knew is he and I had the same hair colour and I liked the song.
Later I would come to understand that this was the first time the English audience really saw someone who embraced, personified, and legitimised ‘different’ (in all its guises) at a time when being ‘different’ was being ‘wrong’ in England. But at the time he fell out of my nascent musical consciousness, at least for a while.
I came back to Bowie in about 1980 through an obscure route: a line from Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express – ‘Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie’. Anyone who hung out with Kraftwerk was fine by me, only later realising that should be the other way round. Prior to that, I thought him more a shape-shifting pop star, and I was too young to ‘get’ the importance of Ziggy Stardust at the time. I played the grooves out of Station to Station as a result, then discovering Heroes and his Berlin Trilogy and this started an extensive trawl through his discography that continues to this day. I only saw him once, on the ‘Serious Moonlight’ tour, when he played the old Wembley Stadium. And I will always regret that.
I’m finding today difficult, because of his passing. He’s been there for me through some of the darker parts of my life: his lyrics were ‘meaty’ and required study to fully understand, which is nigh on perfect for someone who likes to play with words going through my bleaker times. Bowie helped create a complex soundtrack to my life and often it was good that the voices in my head sounded like David Bowie.
“They don’t walk, they just glide in and out of life
They don’t die, they just go to sleep one day.”
‘Sons of the Silent Age’, from Heroes.
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