Jan 11, 2016

Posted by in Featured, Ramblings

As Long As There’s You

As Long As There’s You

These are rather hastily scrawled notes, thoughts, ideas and feelings throughout the day.  The paragraphs do not necessarily flow on to each other.  Deal with it.

The first music you like as a kid, excluding actual kids music like The Wiggles or a posh lady singing the times tables, usually comes from your parents because that’s what you hear around the house.  For me that was mostly Elvis, Neil Diamond and a whole lot of country and western.  I still quite like Elvis and Neil Diamond at least.

But there’s something special about the music you discover for yourself as you’re growing up.  Stuff you hear on the radio stations that your parents don’t listen to.  Or something a friend gives you on a mixtape.  Or a song you hear in a movie and then rush to record store to try and find who sung it.  Because we didn’t have Google in the 80s.  That’s the music that sticks with you.  That’s yours.

This is how I would find a world of Cold Chisel and Nick Cave and Tom Waits and Pink Floyd and beyond.  This is how I would come across David Bowie.  And yet, unlike those others, I can’t specifically remember first hearing Bowie somewhere in particular.  And I think that’s even more fitting than if I remembered.  Bowie, without me actually having a memory of it, was just always there.

2.2Now, Bowie was quite possibly the exact opposite of anything my parents would listen to or watch on just about every level, that at least is how I know I came across Bowie myself.  It was probably in one of two places though.  My Dad dabbled in The Rolling Stones and I can remember the Dancing in the Streets duet with Mick Jagger being very popular in Australia.  Looking at the video now one has to wonder if Mick and David had access to a special cabinet of ‘things’ the rest of us did not.  But, on reflection, my discovery was almost certainly Labyrinth.   I can remember seeing it on VHS a number of times when I was young.  Being a huge Henson fan had brought me to it and, if I’m perfectly honest, it wasn’t, and isn’t, a favourite of mine, but this Goblin King chap was intriguing wasn’t he?  And that bit with the glass balls is still super cool.

Whatever it was, from around that time in the late 80s as I pushed towards my teens and high school I can just always remember Bowie being about and liking what he had to offer.  And it felt dangerous somehow.  Especially in a little place like Fremantle, Western Australia.  This was nothing quite like it.  The look, the glamour, the make up, the music, the, well, the Bowieness of it all.  Here was someone who did all the things he did and instead of being laughed at, mocked, or called a massive poof which is almost certainly what almost everyone in my small school and suburb would have done if he’d moved next door, he was spoken of in terms of hushed genius on the radio.  In the music magazines I read, in amongst the stories of Kylie and Jason, there were articles about Bowie that almost seemed to say that the very copy of Smash Hits I was holding wasn’t worthy of him.

74423234And I can recall thinking that he was probably someone I ‘shouldn’t’ like, if you know what I mean.  If you know suburban Western Australia that is.  And yet, there was Heroes all up in my ears.  And Life on Mars.  And The Jean Genie.  Hell, Let’s Dance was shot in an outback pub.  The music was similar to stuff I was starting to discover on my own and like, but it was also like nothing I’d ever heard at the same time.  I swear to Christ there was a point when I was eight or nine that I was genuinely unsure about the rumours that he was actually a real alien.  I think I thought Bowie was a real person but he somehow was friends with an actual alien called Ziggy Stardust.  I definitely thought they were separate people.

So I think that’s kind of the thing about Bowie for me.  I could never claim I was a diehard Bowie fan, donning the face paint or anything like that but at the same time, by jove I love the man. He was just always there.  Being awesome.  Being brilliant.  Being Bowie.  And I simply cannot imagine growing up into anything like the person I am today without his work.  To be fair this may make some people hate him now…

He released 25 studio albums in his 69 years and I own 18 of them and yet I still wouldn’t say I’m a Bowie head.  Why is that?  I think that’s because, somehow, I don’t understand how someone could not like David Bowie or at the very least appreciate his impact, not just on music, but, and I do mean this, human existence.  He, almost like any other, is a massive stamp on the history of human culture.  Have you ever heard anyone say that someone else was ‘the next David Bowie?’  No.  You haven’t.  There cannot be.  He crossed divides.  He helped define pop culture.  His art made the world a better place.  I particularly enjoyed a quote online today from the comedian Michael Legge who said, if someone says, –“I was never into Bowie. Never bought a single album. Just not my thing”.  He still changed your life for the better.

And yet today, because an inordinate number of people are cunts, there have been cries of ‘you didn’t even know him, why are you upset?’ And, ‘Doctors and nurses die every day and no-one cares about them, but when a singer dies you’re all up in arms’.  And, ‘What are you, a child, grow up, a singer you like died, get over it’.  If you think that, if you said that, then you have my pity.  Because you clearly missed that whole bit about being a human, and shared experiences, and culture and all that.  I am glad I am not you.

‘Celebrities’ die all the time.  People die all the time.  Major radio stations do not play nothing but your music for an entire day when you pass unless you are something incredible.  Something that transcends even the most ardent of trolls, dullards and false righteous bellends of Twitter.

Anyway, Bowie’s songs aren’t just groundbreaking.  Or good for the time.  Or essential to understand where much music today comes from.  Although they are all those things.  They are, in every sense of the word, timeless.  If someone had never heard Space Oddity before and you played it for them now, they could very easily assume it was a new artist on the scene and it had just come out yesterday.  The lyrics and the sound have not dated, nor aged, badly at all.  Dire Straits made great music, but it is distinctly of its time.  Still enjoyable now, certainly, but no-one is mistaking it as a new song.

still-of-david-bowie-in-the-prestige-(2006)-large-pictureAnd then there’s his film work.  Could anyone else have been The Man Who Fell To Earth?  Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence is a phenomenal film.  His role of Tesla in The Prestige is pure Bowie.  And of course there’s Extras.

And his own video clips.  They were their own works of art.  Have you seen Lazarus?  Can you watch that the same way ever again? Here is a man who knowingly turned his own impending death into an incredible piece of art, both visually and musically. Watching it again today one expects to be sad, and I am, but mostly I am in awe. Mostly I have nothing but respect. I expect to be screaming in terror at my own approaching death if I ever see it coming not making something breathtakingly self aware and brilliant. 

My wife and I were talking this morning, after the news, about what our favourite Bowie songs were and I wasn’t sure.  I’m not sure I could whittle it down past ten.  Or twenty.  And that’d be entirely different tomorrow.  I’d be sat there saying, ‘Oh shit, I forgot All The Young Dudes. And Rebel Rebel.  And Beauty and the Beast.  And Set the World On Fire’.  And and and and forever and ever.

I, like many people, got Blackstar just after midnight on release day and had a bit of a listen before I went to bed to attempt sleep.  I’m terrible at sleep.  I listened to it and enjoyed it then, and the next day also.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Next Day, the album, not the next day, in fact, the next day I enjoyed Blackstar more, but, if I’m honest I also remember saying how nuts it was that after so many years, and so many albums, this man could still find something new and fresh within him, lyrically and musically.  It was distinctly Bowie and yet still sounded new.  I mean, come on.  Obviously now that album, its mood, its lyrics, well, it all takes on a new meaning.  It is now, no doubt as he intended, impossible to listen to without hearing a man saying goodbye, knowing the end is near.  It’s, well, it’s Bowie.  It’s, and if you’ll excuse me this somewhat cheesy platitude, impossibly beautiful.

I am a straight white male and have been told in the past that ‘Bowie can’t mean as much to me’ because of that.  Which is of course bollocks.  No-one gets to decide that.  And if that’s what you want to reduce Bowie to then, well, I dunno.  To me, he was a man that celebrated what it was to be different.  That did not have to refer to looks or sexuality or gender or anything.  It was simply ‘not normal’.  And he was lambasted for it by the Fox News of the day.  But more importantly he was, and still is, applauded for it, along with his genius.

I posted on social media what the dictionary definition of genius was by the way.  It is a noun meaning an exceptional natural capacity of intellect, especially as shown in creative and original work in science, art, music, etc.  In other words, David Bowie.

1401x788-104298432Over the years there have been a number of science, comedy and music variety nights at the Hammersmith Apollo, or whatever it’s called this week depending on sponsors, hosted by Robin Ince and Brian Cox.  I have been lucky enough to be part of these shows for the last however many years, five or six I think, and I can remember the first one very clearly.  Not because of the show itself, but because of the soundcheck.  I had dropped all my stuff of in the tech office and was given directions to the stage so that I could go out and check the various things I needed to for some filming we were doing that night.  I wandered out past the sound desk and onto the stage and looked out to three thousand empty seats and, me being me, immediately started looking for the camera positions.  But then I went, ‘Hey, you’re standing on the stage at the Hammersmith Apollo’.  And for all the thousands of incredible performers, in all fields, that have graced that stage over the years, from Buddy Holly through Black Sabbath to Billy Connolly who is there this week, there was one name that jumped to the front of my mind.  One that, and I don’t go in for any of that spiritual mumbo jumbo horseshit, but to one that you can somehow feel in that venue.  He is someone in the walls.  I was stood where Ziggy Stardust made his final stand.  I wasn’t even performing, I was just sorting out the AV, but I still got chills.  And thinking back now, years later after which I have made small cameos on that stage in those shows, usually with puppets, during some of Robin and Brian’s shows, on that stage, on Ziggy’s stage, I get a tingle.  Next year’s shows are going to be even stranger.

And then I think to the night that, as part of those shows, I stood backstage and watched a crowd erupt into a frenzy as Commander Chris Hadfield walked onto that very stage and performed Bowie’s Space Oddity.  The song Chris had performed, with Bowie’s blessing, on the International Space Station.  Look, there’s no other artist in history that that fit even makes a little bit of sense.

And then there is the Remember That Night David Gilmour tour in 2006.  My wife and I had only recently moved to the UK the year before and one of the first big gigs we went to that made us realise we weren’t in Kansas anymore was this.  It was David Gilmour, with Richard Wright and occassional guest Nick Mason, so, you know, Pink Floyd minus Roger Waters.  They played Gilmour’s new album, the brilliant On An Island, in its entirity and a mix of classic and more obscure Pink Floyd back catalogue.  There had already been a guest appearance by Crosby, Nash and Stills on the night we went and so we figured we’d struck it lucky.  Then, in the encore, at centre stage in his trademark black t-shirt, David Gilmour says, casual as you like, “I’d like to invite Mr David Bowie up here to sing a song for you”.  You’d like to what?  I looked at my wife, who wasn’t my wife then but that’s not the point, and we both kinda went, ‘Did he say David Fucking Bowie?’  We were quite far back so as a thin man in tumblr_lp5mn0Ly6Z1qjhpkro1_1280a grey suit walked on stage it wasn’t entirely clear.  But then the entire Royal Albert Hall rose as one when it was pretty clear it was indeed, David Bowie.  He proceeded to do Arnold Layne, because of course he did.  If anyone was going to take on the classic Syd Barrett number at RAH, who else could but Bowie?  Then he did Comfortably Numb with Gilmour, Bowie taking on Roger’s parts.  It was incredible.  How the building didn’t collapse under the sheer emotion and noise of that crowd I do not know.  To be there that night, was something special.

It was his only appearance at those concerts and with each Bowieless year that passed I wondered if we’d seen Bowie’s last live performance?  He did a couple of songs with Alicia Keys a few weeks later in NYC as it turned out, but that was it.  The Next Day came and went eight years later, but no tour, no gigs.  And now he is gone.  Knowing that I saw David Bowie’s last live performance in the UK fills me with a sick mixture of emotions to say the least.  I don’t have any shaky phone footage of the performance to share because I was just watching it, like a normal person, tear in my eye, singing loudly and poorly along with the two Davids.  Thankfully that was the night they filmed for the DVD release so I can relive it to some extent.  Remember that night.  I’d be hard pressed to forget it.

So there it is.  It has been a shit few weeks for music as we have lost too many legends in quick succession.  Stevie Wright, Phil Taylor, Lemmy and now Bowie.  I did like a tweet I saw earlier today, from who I can’t recall, that said Lemmy and Bowie were the only two fictional characters to have actually lived.

I didn’t shed a tear this morning.  I think I, like most, I were in shock.  And then the iTunes shuffle put on ‘Where Are We Now?‘  And well, that was that.

And yet for all this, I still can’t put a finger on what it was about him I loved so much.  It wasn’t just all of those things.  It wasn’t just his art, or his politics, or his power to make us all feel included.  It wasn’t even just the fact that he made a young nerd, desperately uncool, feel cool when he listened to Heroes.  And the more I tried today to put a finger on it, I kept coming back with one solitary answer.  I loved the David Bowie of him.  That’s it.  That’s the only correct summary of it.

David Bowie was not just a pop star.  Nor just an artist.  Or a spokesperson.  Or an advocate or a pioneer or an actor or a trailblazer or even just a genius.  David Bowie, in some weird way, was everything.  And I do mean everything.  He was everything there was of this world and in doing so, somehow seemed like he was not of it.  And, through it all, he seemed like it was nothing.  He was just a normal guy who made music.  In the words of Flight of the Conchords, from their Bowie tribute, ‘You freaky old bastard you’.  There will never be another Bowie.

And of course, deepest condolences to, and thoughts with, Iman, Duncan Jones and all of David Jones’ friends and family.  We only knew him through his work, but if that was even one tenth of the man, I cannot imagine their loss.

You will be missed in so many ways, and yet we have the most impeccable body of work left behind so that we also may not miss him.  Vale The Thin White Duke.  Thank you.

david-bowie-blackstar

  1. Wonderful. Thanks for writing this.

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