Woke up this morning, found out that David Bowie was dead. The opening lines to a blues song nobody wanted to write.
That’s how I heard the news today, oh boy. My alarm went off and as usual, I snoozed it for a while. Eventually, my hand snaked from under the covers, grappling with my DAB radio, turning it on to 6music.
They were playing a David Bowie record. “Ah,” I thought, “what a perfect way to start the week”, deciding I could lay in bed a few minutes longer to hear the song out.
It ended. Shaun Keaveny began to speak. His voice seemed somewhat subdued, sombre almost.
And then, those words. “This morning we’re paying tribute to David Bowie, following the sad news that he has passed away.”
I sat bolt upright in bed. “What???” I demanded of the radio.
Keaveny didn’t repeat it. Another Bowie record began.
The news was like a punch to the stomach, and like so many others, I have spent today in a bit of a daze.
As I write this, I’ve just finished watching the BBC 6 o’clock news. The lead story was about Bowie’s death. Such was the man’s significance, the item lasted 16 minutes of a 30 minute broadcast. ISIS can piss off for the day, nothing you could do to us would upset us as much as the loss we’ve suffered today.
So it struck me that, just as many others have felt compelled to, I had to write something in honour of the great man. Frankly, if I can think of nothing to say about the impact of Bowie, then I may as well pack away my laptop and give up on this blogging lark, tout suite.
As it happens, I had been working on a post which was supposed to have slotted into my series on 1985 where I talked about, amongst other things, the purchase of this record:
Purchased on vinyl from that treasure trove of second hand records that was practically a second home for me in the mid-80s, the basement of Andy’s Records in Peterborough, this was the first Bowie record I ever bought.
I’ve mentioned before that when an established artist first caught my eye, I would buy a Greatest Hits album, decide which of the hits contained therein I liked most, find out which album they were on, and go buy that next.
With Bowie, I just knew that it didn’t matter which I bought first, whichever one it was would be amazing.
And so it was that I came to own 1972’s “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. It is a record which has rarely been off my turntable ever since.
And I was right. Totally amazing. As has every other record of his I have ever had the pleasure of owning or hearing.
Yes it has the hits which everyone knows: “Starman”, “Suffragette City” and of course “Ziggy Stardust” himself, but there’s one track that I was blissfully unaware of, and had no idea it had been a single, probably because it wasn’t released until two years later, it would seem by a record label impatient for a follow-up album. Listening to the album through for the first time, it was the swansong that that hit me the hardest:
It’s that show-stopping moment, the “You’re not alone!” followed by the fade-to-end: “Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful”
You’re not alone. You’re wonderful.
One of the many things I’ve seen and heard in the many, many eulogies that have been written about the great man today is reference not just to his musical influence, but also to his style, his fashion sense, and to his “gender-bending”, for want of a better phrase, that he gave us permission to be who we want to be. For my money, those five words sum up the empowerment he offered.
You’re not alone. You’re wonderful.
And show-stopping seems an apt description, for we all know that what we embraced about Bowie was not just his music, but his creativity, his artistry, his showmanship.
His musical legacy, however, cannot be understated. There cannot be a single credible musician, and probably quite a few less credible ones, who do not owe at the very least a nod to the Thin White Duke. His music is so boundless, so other worldly, that it can be of no surprise that it influenced so many and touched so many more. Don’t believe me? Go to Twitter. Search the name David Bowie. See the out-pouring of grief on display there. I can’t remember anything like this since Diana died. And she never released a single anywhere near half as good as “The Laughing Gnome”, let alone “Rebel Rebel”, or “Fame”, or “Sound and Vision” or “Ashes to Ashes”, or…ok, I think you get the point.
As an example, here’s the same Bowie song being covered by two very different acts. Firstly, from their MTV Unplugged show, Nirvana’s version of The Man Who Sold The World:
and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Lulu’s version of the same song:
I could go on and on about Bowie here, but there’s really no need. You know how important he was, or you wouldn’t be here reading this now.
So I’ll leave you with two songs.
First, a lingering shot at the start of the clip, starting at his boots and moving upwards to reveal the latest Bowie look which seemed to have been fashioned from a pair of my grandmother’s curtains, but my! How fabulously he had done it. Just: wow.
And secondly, one of his 80s tracks which I simply adore:
There really is a Starman waiting in the sky now.
Us mere mortals here on earth can never thank you enough. But I’ll try..
Thank you David. Sleep well, you beautiful man who fell to earth.