Log in

14 January 2016 @ 12:37 am
On Bowie  
I was asked by a friend this evening if Bowie was ever that big for me. The implication being that he wasn't for him. The conversation felt incomplete so i thought I'd take to the blog to sort out my thoughts.

My sister told me yesterday (a day after the singer's death) that I bought Space Oddity on 7", which may have been my first record purchase. I think it was All The Young Dudes but never mind. The chap was vaguely in my consciousness even at that tender age - I must've been under 7. That was the period before I *got* music, that prehistoric 70s, the time of innocence, Junior Choice on Radio One, Elton, Bolan, Glitter (before we knew what we now know). The music from that time that I look back on now has the quality of a half-remembered dream. Bowie's odd voice and colourful presence is definitely around but it's years before I could call myself a fan of his or anyone else's. I feel that I recall hearing Sorrow on the radio. I think even then I found it weird and unsettling but perfect. I think I remember seeing Starman on Top of the Pops. None of this can ever be confirmed, and I hope no one has been auditing my life, but I guess that hardly matters. Even if I were making all of this up after the fact (I don't think I am) it still wouldn't deny Bowie his place in my life. I didn't have a clue back then, of course. Who at the age of 7 could know, apart from people with ultra-cool elder siblings perhaps, just how mindblowingly out-there it must've been for a rock singer - the author of such riffs as Jean Genie and Rebel Rebel - to go soul in 1974/5? In his mid-20s for goodness sake.

One of my many answers to the 'was he ever that big' question was that he was never bigger than anyone else. I'm reasonably sure I've never told anyone that Bowie was my favourite musician ever. Certainly not when I was entering my teens when there was so much other stuff occupying the bit of my brain devoted to music. After all, 1979 (when I began to buy music properly) to 1985, when I went to university, was a particularly fertile time in music with so many styles, even in the mainstream, vying for attention. I liked Bowie's Fashion and thought Scary Monsters was interesting. I couldn't claim yet that I was a huge fan. By the time I was old enough to know about music and my likes and dislikes Bowie's own career was taking a turn for the less interesting.

Spring 1996. I'm on a trip around Eastern Europe and Russia. In St Petersburg I'm led to a shop selling bootleg tapes. One of several I buy has Heroes on one side and Low on the other. It's shortly before the internet, so I can't just look it all up as you can now, but the spectacular strangeness of the albums is clear and I'm starting to place things into some sort of context.

The next Bowie landmark for me was seeing him live in 2000. It was at Glastonbury. My recollections of the event are scant: miles from the stage, competent band, watched it on the big screen. Not exactly a transcendent experience. But it was Bowie, the man from somewhere we can't quite place (OK, officially Brixton, but it was clear he was no ordinary headliner, even if I didn't spend all my time listening to his music). When you're at a festival you hope you might see a legend and an icon. I might not have had all the important albums at that time but gosh I knew most of the songs.

I'm a slack sort of chap, and my listening is inconsistent, my knowledge piecemeal and slipshod. As an adult I've encountered genuine Bowie fans, people who know their stuff and who've shared their personal tales, their passion for Bowie's ethereal otherness, their knowledge of dates and music styles. A helping hand has guided me into being the fan I am now.

Nowadays when I think of Bowie I think, as an adult armed with a bit more knowledge, of that extraordinary soul album and break with the past and that appearance on Soul Train; I think of Modern Love (a wonderfully uplifting pop song); I think of Bowie's wild years and his extraordinary persona; I think of the times I've told people - because I've come to believe it - that Bowie's not made of flesh and blood like the rest of us; I think of Life on Mars, the gorgeous song I remember from prehistoric times AND the TV series, along with Ashes to Ashes immortalising those songs; I think of those obtuse lyrics with moments of glorious albeit impenetrable panache; I think of the Berlin years; I think of Nile Rogers' contribution; I think of Sound and Vision, a song so grand and so ambitious (and yet so effortless) that it has the balls to have a sax solo before Bowie has even started singing.

Last year Mateja and I went to Paris to see the Bowie Is exhibition. Two years earlier we wanted to go to the original London one but couldn't get tickets, so we said shall we go to Paris in 2015. We'd been looking forward to it for two years. It was great albeit stupidly crowded.

And now he's gone and died, as mysteriously and oddly as he lived.