Bowie – Starman and Hero
This last week sucked.
On Friday night, the 8th January, I posted on our Facebook page a GIF of all David Bowie’s cover artwork, with a happy birthday message. My next post to the page was a few days later, on the Monday, a sparse & sombre ‘RIP David Bowie’. I couldn’t really bring myself to embellish it.
It’s been an odd week in our ‘virtual office’, the three of us unusually quiet where we usually bug one another at all hours with trans-global Skype calls. I think we’re all feeling the same, a little shell-shocked at the news and just waiting for this feeling to pass.
The morning I heard about David Bowie’s death I was getting ready to drive from Dusseldorf to Amsterdam. That journey was a strange one. With the news still fresh in my mind as I departed. I turned on the radio and ‘Heroes’ was playing, I had a strange feeling of sadness and euphoria. That song usually stirs these conflicting emotions in me anyway, but that day it was turbo-charged.
All the way on that non-stop 2.5 hour journey, no matter which station I flicked to, it was Bowie. I remember thinking, rather darkly & selfishly I admit, that this was a silver lining to his passing, the fact that his great music was accompanying me all the way on my journey.
I was going to Holland to do some recording with a good friend in his studio. I got there around 11am, he opened the door to let me in and he looked shaken. I asked him how his morning was, he said “shit” I asked why, he replied “Bowie and that”.
Everyone I know has been affected to some degree by his death, and I think what’s weird is that it has affected people even more than they may have thought it would. And it’s people of ALL ages. Why is it people of all ages? Because his career has spanned so long, and, unlike nearly ALL other artists, he never went crap. He never turned into the embarrassing Dad-rocker who made even his most vehement fans cringe. His lyrics were as good at 69 as they were at 29. This is a very rare thing. He was consistently class right until the end, and that’s what has really hit home now in retrospect.
I’m a songwriter. I’ve been around the block a bit and written in many a different genre.
I know my stuff enough to knock up a quick song ‘in the style of’ X band quite confidently to a brief. What I couldn’t do is ‘write a Bowie song’ how the fuck would you do that?! THAT is what makes him stand out for me. I know music, I live & breathe it, so much so that a lot of it loses it’s appeal to me because I know how it is made. The chord sequences, the scales, the production etc. etc. are pretty formulaic across a lot of compositions. But without a doubt my favourite artists are the ones I don’t get, the one’s where I still listen to it with childish wonderment because my brain gives up trying to work it out and let’s my ears just enjoy it. This for me is Talking Heads, Michael Jackson, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, DAVID BOWIE. Those jerks.
It wasn’t just the man’s music that set him aside. He was constantly re-inventing himself and always pushing the envelope. I say pushing the envelope, he wasn’t even doing that, he was making an envelope. His costumes, his make-up, his vaudevillian performances. And let’s not forget his amazing artwork. I mentioned in the first paragraph about posting a GIF of all his album covers on his birthday. Just looking at those covers, man they just fit so well with every movement in his career. The soft focus and creepy cartoonish 70’s sci-fi of his earlier works (Aladdin Sane, Pinups), the androgyny that began to manifest itself as the albums progressed and he started getting a bit druggy in the late 70’s (Diamond Dogs, Young Americans) then after the stark and bleak monotone of his ‘breakdown’ period (Station To Station, Heroes) he was re-born into the 80’s with a bang of technicolor and post-modernism (Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance) I could go on.
I think what I’m getting at is that his cover art not only reflected the time but also where he was as an artist. Which makes me wonder; was it time that influenced him? Or was it more likely the other way round?
Time may have changed him, but could he have change time?
David Bowie was, and will continue to be, an inspiration to so many musicians. Everybody wants to be Bowie in some way, whichever Bowie it is. I personally am a big fan of cocaine-Bowie, I could listen to Young Americans on repeat, the album he says he doesn’t even remember making!
You may have noticed that I knock up a dumb quiz now and again for this page, well I thought I’d do a Bowie one as a little homage. Because he had so many different personas and alter-egos it’s a ‘Which Bowie Are You?’.
The true Bowie enthusiasts will notice the themes running throughout the questions.