DAVID BOWIE: : : : : : TRUE ARTIST

 

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I spent most of last summer listening to the music of David Bowie. As though I was discovering him for the first time. Somehow, and for no apparent reason, although I have a good few Bowie albums in my collection and have long had a keen respect for his music and alien-like unapproachability; the fact that he was (I can’t believe I am already using the past tense, I really can’t) so  effortlessly, so brilliantly cool and so utterly, uniquely distinctive, so inimitably original – despite all this, I had rarely let his oeuvre get so completely under the skin as I did for those hot weeks we spent at home in July and August just lazing around and blasting out his music. Last August the soundtrack was David Bowie. And virtually nothing else.

 

My longtime friends all know that I am always making CD compilations that I then send them ( although it has tailed off somewhat in recent years), and, if the CD drive hadn’t been bust at that particular time and I had been more prescient, then many of them would probably then have been receiving, in the post, my ‘Ultimate Bowie’ mix, called ‘I’m Only Dancing’ that I was working on and listening to obsessively, all day every day, so perfect in the searing Japanese heat, so ridiculously exciting. Exotic. Full of heat, yet cold; that exquisitely clammy froideur,  grandeur; that bi-optic, reptilian genius (and yes of course I realise that you can just send playlists online and all that, but receiving the physical, personally designed CD as an object to keep  – and all my friends will also attest, always perfumed, oh yes, you have to perfume the track listing to make it sink into you even more – is so much more pleasurable and endurable). The antithesis of the banal and the prosaic, this weird, eerie funk music bathed in atmospherica, those cold, staring eyes, the curious, unworldly mindset of an inscrutable, canny rockstar who had so perfected the art of overwhelming detachment that for many people, in many walks of life, he was a God.

 

Beginning with the cocaine-fuelled hysteria of ‘Stay’ from Station To Station, a song that played loud could literally bust my brain chemistry I find it so exhilarating, so rangy and sinewy, a blinding, white-powder shock funk that even with my crummy, bad knees had me dancing like a dervish round the kitchen on the vestiges of my cartilage (along with Duncan, as well half the time, both of us swept up in the fever), in my decade-hopping mix taken from most of the albums, I then wound eclectically in my choices through the blue-eyed white boy funk period of Young Americans (possibly my favourite Bowie album), that record  – seen on my sofa in the picture –  that has such addictively swaggering songs on it as Fascination and Right – so insanely danceable and heady I could lose my mind to them -(and have done, frequently) on the dance floor, through to the shimmering, jazz-tinged chameleonica of Lady Of The Grinning Soul (so, so beautiful, from the Aladdin Sane LP, along with that classic, addictive and head-spinning  eponymous song), through to the gloom-laden instrumentals from Heroes and Low, and The Secret Life Of Arabia (swoon) as well as the Turk-tinted pop songs from Lodger – all my favourite Bowie songs, in my obsessive compiling, merging, gradually into a two CD mix that gradually segued into the hits, on Part Two, from Loving The Alien through to Space Oddity and the beautiful Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes, Look Back In Anger, the, again absurdly groove-inducing John I’m Only Dancing (Again) and ending, finally, with the full length album version of Let’s Dance, which to me, is such a blisteringly, searingly, body-wrenchingly exciting pop song that I can still never forget the moment, in 1983, that it blasted right through to the top of the charts. It was amazing: nothing had ever sounded quite like it. When we have a party and I put it on and it reaches that climax, I really do tremble like a flower.

 

 

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And then, just two nights ago (really?) we were about to go out, to Tokyo, and post bath, getting ready upstairs and applying my scents, I happened to see on social media that there was, out of the blue, a new single: Black Star. Like many people, I have been less enamoured of David Bowie’s output of recent years, but clicking on the Vevo link for the hell of it I found that I was quite mesmerised, that his music was again renewed: a riveting, ten minute song that begins like Bjork’s Spain/Moorish Hunter, that then segues and swoops into more soaring, melodic territory before returning, with its Butoh influenced dancers, to its odd, jittering start. It was so good I listened to it immediately again twice more afterwards,  excited and genuinely drawn in. I’ll buy the new album next week, I said to myself, having read some rave reviews, amazed and really pleased that someone, at 69, could still be at the pinnacle of their powers, still able to shift gears, and styles, create relevant sounding music ,preserve that mysterious aura that David Bowie has always had more than any other pop star, ever (forgive me if I am sticking to the present perfect tense; it feels more natural, somehow, than the past simple: can he really have gone? ). I really couldn’t believe it at all this evening when I saw that he is now dead, just when he was about to stage another artistic rebirth (with another single, and a musical, most tellingly, called Lazarus. He knew).

 

 

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In truth, if I am honest, unlike other people I know, I never felt any deep, sentimental connection to David Bowie. In some ways he even repelled me . Many of my friends, on the contrary (because I naturally, obviously, have the kind of friends who love David Bowie) will be really mourning the loss of the man today and tonight, really mourning him – on a deep and emotional level for what he meant for them- for the incredible pioneering of his artistry and androgyny, his middle finger to the establishment, for the sheer influence that he has had on so many spheres of modern culture (he changed music; he changed how we view gender, the man truly liberated, and the way he looked was so astonishing; I picked up, again in the summer, during this almost clairvoyant late-stage Bowie mania, a Greatest Video Hits Collection that was fascinating to watch, to see his evolution, but despite all the kaleidoscopic image changes and abrupt changes in musical style it was the Life On Mars video that struck me the deepest: I honestly don’t think I have ever seen a human being look more amazing; more enviably stylish and original. He was not of this world;  a man who fell to earth, from beyond).

 

Yet, as I said, he never really touched me emotionally. The friends I have in England and around the world at this moment who will probably be crying at the loss of their Hero, their Thin White Duke, their Ziggy, those precious, classic records they played to death as they were growing up and that presented them with salvation and a sense that there was hope for people that couldn’t, or didn’t want to, conform to the bleakness of society’s rules,  I know they will be devastated at his loss, but I myself had other idols and music that touched me on a deeper, more intuitive emotional level, that reached further into the recesses of my soul. He was not my favourite musician. And yet, when I think about it, there is not a great deal of music in the pop music canon that can make me feel quite so deliriously excited and outside myself as David Bowie’s, that can rev me up in such an incandescent, peculiar way. If dancing and the inability to sit still, or restrain your inner organs in serenity is emotion, then the man, in fact, did blister me to the core.

 

 

For me, David Bowie was more than just a pop singer, or a performer. He was a true artist. He was living his ideas, aware of his deity-like status, yet not exploiting it. He just created, from afar. And how clever, and how tragically beautiful, in a way, this ending. To make an album in silence, while suffering with a terminal illness in pain, to still create and make new music as a fresh, indignant riposte to mortality: to release an album – on his birthday –  and then to die right afterwards. It is a cruel, master-plan of a cosmic joke. His final bow. Sad, but totally brilliant. Somewhere, out there in the strange Major Tom trajectory of his space odyssey, I know that the Star Man is smiling.

29 Comments

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29 responses to “DAVID BOWIE: : : : : : TRUE ARTIST

  1. Stephen

    I’m in tears.

  2. jennyredhen

    One of the most admirable things about David Bowie is that he remained married to the same woman for 23 years.. Most pop/rock stars trade in for a younger version eventually.. even Neil Young has recently done that. I suppose Paul Mc Cartney would have stayed married to Linda if she hadnt died.and there is always Ozzy Osbourne .. LOL.. Shocked that David Bowie has died.. I thought he would last forever .. he never seemed completely human.

    • jennyredhen

      and expert at transforming and reinventing himself.

    • I can’t imagine that his having been faithful to his wife will be the thing that he will be remember for (after all, he is said to have been incredibly promiscuous when he was young), but I do know what you mean. During my Bowie obsession last year I looked at quite a lot of youtube videos, not only of music but also TV appearances and so on and I was quite surprised at how unpretentious he was. Really quite down to earth, shy almost. Of course, when he was in ‘Bowie mode’, at press conferences and so on, he was suitably (and impressively) aloof, playing that role, but although of course I don’t actually know anything about him really other than what has been presented to me, from what I saw, he came across as quite a decent man who had successfully compartmentalised his private life and his art.

  3. ninakane1

    Brilliant homage to him Neil. Lovely to read. Like you, I never felt emotionally connected to him particularly but his music somehow sits under our whole lives and carries so much with it, it’s impossible not to pause today and reflect on his monumental contribution to culture. His music is frequently sublime, and his self-reinventions were so astute, dallying as he did between avant-garde and mainstream, making beautiful fusions. He was a true artist. I wrote on facebook earlier ‘He handled his death with such elegance and dignity, preserving space and privacy for himself and his loved ones, but still managing to end on a massive ritual artwork performing the fear, frailty and acceptance of his encroaching mortality. I feel his Black Star video helps us glimpse a little of death’s face directly through him and it’s most unnerving but also so brave and beautiful.’ A lot of my friends have been in tears today – people who normally never shed a tear at anything, and I welled up slightly at Absolute Beginners. In the last few days, mooching around in damp misty Yorkshire January gloom I’ve had a strange sense of something ending – in fact by yesterday evening the moon here was fully dark which may account in part – but somehow, when I watched his Black Star video, it felt so apposite that he should go on a dark moon, slipping away quietly into blackness. I’ve been dousing myself liberally in Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose (which you introduced me to this summer) and it’s placed me in a strange, sweet, raw melancholy – it is as if I’ve been waiting for something to happen – like the space between a death and a funeral, or the quiet last days in a hospice where you need to find the words you need to say and complete something well. I feel Bowie did complete something well.

    • Beautifully put: you say here what I also felt watching the video (but did you see it after he died or before? I am fascinated by the fact that I hooked onto that video in that way just before he died :I somehow can’t quite face watching it now, or listen to his music.)

      As for the emotional connection, I think as eighties pop kids we would probably not have quite the deep-rooted attachment that seventies kids would do: we can’t quite imagine what it must have been like for them, to have this person, so freaky and beautiful and off-kilter, coming down like a saviour. I mean, all the people I love – Kate Bush, Madonna, Morrissey, Boy George, they were all there at the concerts, obsessed – I suppose I fell in love myself with Bowie’s acolytes.

      Also, I am not a guitar man, a rock-n-roller. Of course there are heavy guitars in my music collection, like you I am Mr Eclectica, but ultimately I am much more of a synth-pop disco funk kind of person, so most of those early hits like Jean Genie, Rebel Rebel and so on I can appreciate on one level but never actually love. In fact, I have that double CD Greatest Hits collection from a few years ago and find it almost unlistenable. I usually don’t like ‘Best Ofs’ in any case, because they rarely are (singles are singles, and they are meant to be surrounded by album tracks to pad them, lighten them, detach from them, give them context, embellish them) and so I find endless hits hits hits, always in their edited 7″ versions to boot, unenjoyable. In Bowie’s case, even on the albums I love, I rarely like the singles. I have no time for Changes, I am not even that bothered by Fame, Golden Years, and actively dislike Sound And Vision. All those major keys and easy hooks, they bore me (sorry David). Of course there are exceptions to the singles rules, particularly the early eighties singles – like I say, Let’s Dance, China Girl and so on – I think Ashes To Ashes is a masterpiece – that is one case where I like the single but almost none of the album – I find Scary Monsters also unlistenable, especially side two (oops, all of this is really highlighting what a non-Bowie fan I am!), except that I could easily fill up three CDs of songs I adore by him which just shows you that I am. His ‘Plastic Soul’ concept and execution, the songs on Young Americans and Station To Station THRILL me, as I have written in the piece above in my typically over the top manner, as do all the Berlin albums (though, again, I don’t like the song Heroes, never have).

      That is the point though I think. The oeuvre was so huge, and encompassed so many different styles, that there will be people around the world all with their own favourite playlists, loving him in their own way – some honing on the Diamond Dogs, probably other people listening to the lite-Bowie stuff like Tonight….One of my favourite albums of his is All Saints, a collection of instrumentals which is beautiful.

  4. A wonderful post Neil. I cannot add much to what others have commented, but like him or not like him, David Bowie was an “original”.

    • Absolutely and Totally. That is what I so admire, and his steadfastness in just being who he was (and who he was creating). Many tributes have talked about the tension between artifice and truth; the aesthetic disturbance of mining reality and the universe to create something more beautiful, and that is something I can completely relate to.

  5. TuskAnny

    Hey ! thank you for what you wrote, Neil. I enjoyed immensely reading it. I sort of grew up with his music so… XXX

  6. Gwen

    Wonderfully written. My all time favourite. The only music I dance to. Spookily I’ve pretty much had Bowie on repeat for the last fortnight. So very sad.

    • Gwen! So wonderful to see you on here. You were one of the first people I thought of, naturally, when I heard that he had died (can you believe it?). It was in your room that I first listened to Lodger, and you let me borrow it – I can picture it now. And then when he was going through his naff Glass Spider stage and you were always listening to Never Let Me Down- I can see that as well. And didn’t you have an amazing compilation tape (or was it Julia’s? I know we were always exchanging and borrowing music from each other), but it had stuff from Lodger on it but also other albums. I think I probably heard Wild Is The Wind the first time at your house as well. In fact, you WERE, basically, my Bowie source.

      Such great memories of those times, Gwen. Such a sweet friend.

      N xxxxxxxxxx

  7. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    He is and will be stardust

    • There definitely was something otherworldly about him (unless he just so successfully created that persona that we all fell for it). This ending, though, Blackstar, releasing that and then going off to the next realm, whatever that is, has certainly reinforced it all. Isn’t there an exhibition currently in Amsterdam? Have you been to it? Would you be interested in going? I know my friends were ecstatic about the Bowie exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert museum in 2013. With me it was more about the music: I was never a true disciple in that sense, but then again, to see the costumes and memorabilia collected together might give another angle, and certainly become more iconic now that he is no longer with us.

  8. salmack1

    Wonderful words, Neil. David was my ultimate music hero. Growing up in London and coming into teenage-hood in the late 60s, his music was literally the soundtrack to my life throughout the 70s and 80s. I saw him for the first time when I was 14 at a local college just after he brought out Space Oddity and I was hooked. I saw him 6 more times, including the Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs tours and then the ultimate – Live Aid- in 1985. When I moved to the US, I saw him again at the Glass Spider and Reality tours. It’s so unreal to see someone that was so much a part of ones important, formative years when the music was SO important, when lyrics said what we all felt but couldn’t express, when we were all struggling to identify who we were and how we fit into it all – that incredible electricity that was the London scene at the time – is no longer a part of this world. I’ve spent the day listening to all my vinyl, scratched almost into oblivion as they are, feeling that his death is more than just an ending of a life. It seems like its the end of an era. *My* era, if that makes sense.

  9. dravarious2

    What an beautiful written post about the Legend! Honest and Sincere! Thank you!!
    //Yukiro

  10. Am I getting this post posted ? I flipped a button I should have left alone And disappeared into Neverland

  11. Till later. Can I please have my own T B N account back again, Mr World Press?

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