I am currently in my easy season: from December to April the schedule is much lighter. And so I had the time, and the space, to waste some time in Yokohama city centre today before my lessons. I went to Tower Records. It still, just about, exists in Japan. I went to the David Bowie Section. Black Star, the new album, was sold out. Except for one edition of the vinyl (hurrah that records are coming back!)
A man standing next to me had a plastic basket full of CDs, about fifteen, all Bowie.
(Why was he buying them? Out of curiosity? Because of the ‘hype’?)
I moved towards the new record. And I felt suffocated. Oxygen stopped, just by looking at it, even though I had just been quite seriously considering buying it. David Bowie’s epitaph. His brilliant joke. His gravelly, barking, voice beyond the grave. And it suddenly seemed electrifyingly creepy. Petrifying, actually. As though my breath were being negated. The idea that I would put that on the player, and have his voice, his body freshly cremated, today, or yesterday, or whatever time zone he is in, coming at me through the speakers. Speaking, singing to dead, from the ‘beyond’. An ‘agonizingly lovely record’, or whatever the reviews are saying.
But looking at the plastic, and the vinyl beneath it, and the paper sleeve beneath that; and then the label on the record beneath that, I really, quite viscerally, felt the BLACK. The death. A sense of being enfolded. Of being entombed. Of being somehow drawn against my will, with the fingers of Lethe, into a lightless void. And quite frankly I was on the verge of a panic attack. There was no way in hell that I was buying that disc, even though that had been my intention, just minutes before; even though I had played Station To Station, though half-heartedly, and at very low volume, earlier in the morning.
I went to another record shop, one of those hidden away emporia just for geeks (I got a new stylus for my birthday, and so am loving my plastic record player in the kitchen), a place surprisingly busy for a Thursday afternoon, a place I thought I could pick something obscure, or long forgotten, unobtrusively, and inexpensively, a cheap thrill before work – but, as I well should have imagined, it was all Bowie, Bowie, Bowie: records out on display; posters, picture discs, and every conceivable playstation or video booth or radio speakers playing some form of the greatest hits: I had just escaped from Black Star (David, no offence: I genuinely think this is genius: you planned it exactly, as I would have, probably, had I been in your position); you knew that there would be a brief ‘before’, to get the reviews (it’s apparently a masterpiece, but who knows what to believe anymore); you knew that then people like me would stand before the vinyl – it is beautiful – and potentially have this exact reaction (seriously, what the fuck is a download? it is nothing). Even a CD is nothing compared to the record: that great, physical, deathstar of Black, of oblivion and cancellation, so big and so light-consuming that I felt instantaneously snuffed out even just looking at it : the whole thing is just so MAGNIFICENTLY RENDERED.
But hearing Let’s Dance, and China Girl from one speaker, and This Is Not America from another, and Blue Jean from another, and Absolute Beginners from yet another; all at different volumes, and in different places, an aural disorientation, and then the array on display of all the albums, all those faces, all those looks from the beginning to the end, we couldn’t escape your face at all, it was a cacophony and I started to feel a bit unhinged- and having just had that ‘blackout’ at Tower Records, I was starting to feel I couldn’t breathe. Very ; highly; unpleasant. I was sweating. It is very cold right now and I was typically overlayered and be-scarved, really overheating in the Bowie blanket (death casket) of commercial sell-sell-sell that was going on all around me.
I had to get out.