David Bowie 8 January 1947- 10 January 2016
Just woken up this morning to news that I had always dreaded but also the news I never thought I would hear: David Bowie is dead!
It is so final!
It is so sad!
It is so very, very out of the blue!
What makes this tragic news so much more poignant is that it comes at the end of a weekend that began with him releasing an album-Blackstar- which was some kind of artistic renaissance, coincidentally the video for new single Lazarus was also unleashed on Thursday to great reviews. It now appears that this was not some new phase in the grand scheme of Bowie but instead a dying man’s final word; a musical last will and testament.
Along with the musical-also named Lazarus- it seemed that Bowie was as busy as ever and after his ‘comeback’ in 2013, which saw his profile rise once again to what it had been back in his heyday, it felt as if he was going to be around for a very long time.
Sadly this turned out not to be true.
So where do I begin with the legacy of a man who influenced generations of people?
Not just artists, musicians, fashion designers and other creative types but real ordinary people too. His presence is everywhere and his sticky fingerprints are all over our culture and coursing through our DNA. It wasn’t just the music, which stands alone as brilliant, it was also the idea of the individual, the outsider, the dispossessed, the ‘other’ as actually having a place and , more importantly, a voice.
Where does one begin with the music? Of course there are the glam rock classics- Ziggy, Aladdin, Diamond Dogs- and their immediate precursor Hunky Dory but let us not forget the soul inflected Young Americans, the dislocated funk and grandeur of ‘Station to Station (personally my favourite although this changes occasionally), the icy chill and experimentation of Low Heroes and Lodger and the return to avant pop of Scary Monsters.
If a decade can belong to one individual then it is safe to say that the nineteen seventies belonged to David Bowie. And they always will.
Okay so he let us down a bit in the eighties-it was once commented that this was because he had already lived then in the previous decade- and the nineties saw some rehabilitation of his image even if the music wasn’t all that much cop but his return in the early 2000’s with Heathen gave us a glimpse that some of that old spark was back. Reality basked in its predecessor’s glow but ultimately disappointed but was significant as it was the last album he toured before heart problems forced its creator to take a permanent break from touring and a semi-retirement from public appearances. 2006 was the last time Bowie gave a public performance.
All was quiet on the Bowie front until one January day in 2013-his 66th birthday- when with no fanfare or build up he surreptitiously released a new single Where Are We Now? and was global news by breakfast time. The retrospective ‘Bowie Is’ exhibition opened in London raising his profile and his stock , profile and kudos were higher than at any time since his seventies peak.
I was very excited and totally in awe when I heard Blackstar on Friday- Dylan excepted Bowie is perhaps the last of that rare breed that you simply HAVE to hear the day a new album is released- and found it like all his other great albums to be inventive, thoughtful, contemplative and thoroughly brilliant. It is certainly a swan song of epic proportions and to die only two days after its release adds a piquant poignancy and a touch of theatricality that only Bowie is capable of.
So what did David Bowie mean to me?
He was Ziggy, The Starman, Queen Bitch, Gouster, Thin White Duke, Grande-dame of Rock, Chameleon, Leper Messiah, Aladdin Sane and so many more. He was the voice that told me I was right about the things I was feeling whilst my surroundings and those around me tried to convince me otherwise;he taught me to explore my innerspace whilst singing about outerspace. He was the prettiest star, the reclusive star, the great star, the shining star and ultimately he was the last star.
I would like to say rest in peace but for such a wandering soul who never rested but always strove forward this is simply not apt at all.
The other night after listening to his new album I listened to the live bootleg ‘Santa Monica 1972’ on his first tour of America when he was on the brink of becoming a major superstar-possibly the most exciting time of any artist’s life- and was completely spellbound by his rendition of Jacques Brel’s My Death which he performed with devastating intensity accompanied only by his own twelve string guitar. It was a performance that showed a man so completely in control, so very in that exact moment and so very aware of his own greatness.
Thank you David! For everything!