Only a couple of weeks into the new year and another sad death in the music world. First Lemmy, then John Bradbury of the Specials, and now David Bowie. I must admit I was never a massive fan during his classic years in the seventies and eighties, but I’ve learned to acknowledge his influence and appreciate his cutting edge creativity as the years have gone by.
My first encounter with Bowie was with ‘Space Odity’, for which I borrowed 2/6 for and bought on a whim when I was in town with some young friends. It was 1969 and the moon landing had had a profound affect on me. It just fitted in and I had to have it.
As a teen at school in the early seventies it always seemed to be the tough girls who would be seen carrying around copies of Aladin Sane or Hunky Dory, whilst I was happy to emerse myself in the ‘freaky’ world of ‘underground’ or ‘progressive’ rock. Bowie and Bolan seemed a bit too lightweight and poppy to me. However, at our school discos, tucked away amongst the more predictable inclusion of Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, East of Eden’s ‘Jig a Jig’, and for the final smooch, 10CC’s ‘I’m Not In Love’, were Bowie gems such as ‘Queen Bitch’, ‘The Jean Genie’, and ‘Suffragette City’. Oddly enough, it’s mainly for that reason that Bowie stands out in my memory during that period and I really looked forward to them.
Here he is on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ in 1972. I remember this broadcast, and even I was impressed by Bowie’s outlandish dress and Mick Ronson’s rasping guitar.
Although in my juvenile way I might have dismissed him out of hand, the truth was I don’t think I really knew what to make of him. He was influential, ever changing, often a bit scary, and in truth, never really deserving to be pushed into the same box that I put all the other chartsters at the time. I remember looking at a promotional display for Diamond Dogs when it came out, and the dog/Bowie-being that spread itself a good ten feet across the window seemed really shocking. He certainly wasn’t the Osmonds.
He was always at the forefront of the changes in music. It was of little surprise to see his work develop a more ‘industrial’ edge during the Punk/New Wave years, and I will be eternally grateful for his collaboration with Iggy Pop. I never really got the ‘New Romantic’ period, and I found ‘Ashes to Ashes’ a bit annoying and indulgent. I cannot deny however that ‘Let’s Dance’ is a truly great piece of work with Nile Rogers.
After that, Bowie drifted out of my life. Over recent years though I’ve come to appreciate him more and I revisited a number of classic Bowie albums last year, being amazed at how fresh his songs are, many of which have rightly earned classic status. When I heard on the radio at seven o’clock this morning of news coming in announcing his death, I really was shocked, and I’m surprised how much of my mind he has filled today. It’s very hard to see any of today’s rock musicians achieving the same status of that of David Bowie. For my generation, in my mind he feels like the equivalent of Elvis Presley, and his death is almost as poignant. Listening to the radio on the way home someone said that they will still talk of him in a thousand years time. I can believe that.