Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie and me

I know. I suppose everyone will want to have their say about David Bowie, which goes to show what an important influence he has been.

The very first song I heard by David Bowie on Australian radio, and the first to which I attached his name, was ‘Queen Bitch’, from the ‘Hunky Dory’ album. A song with the words ‘queen’ and ‘bitch’ in the title? Would that get airplay in the US even today?

Oh yeah
I’m up on the eleventh floor and I’m watching the cruisers below
He’s down on the street and he’s trying hard to pull sister Flo
Oh, my heart’s in the basement, my weekend’s at an all-time low
’Cause she’s hoping to score, so I can’t see her letting him go
Walk out of her heart, walk out of her mind, oh not her

She’s so swishy in her satin and tat
In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat
Oh God, I could do better than that

She’s an old-time ambassador of sweet-talking, night-walking games
And she’s known in the darkest clubs for pushing ahead of the dames
If she says she can do it, then she can do it, she don’t make false claims
But she’s a queen and such are queens that your laughter is sucked in their brains
Now she’s leading him on, and she’ll lay him right down
Yes, she’s leading him on, and she’ll lay him right down
But it could have been me, yes, it could have been me
Why didn’t I say, why didn’t I say, no, no, no

She’s so swishy in her satin and tat
In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat
Oh God, I could do better than that

So I lay down a while and I gaze at my hotel wall
Oh, the cot is so cold it don’t feel like no bed at all
Yeah, I lay down a while and I look at my hotel wall
And he’s down on the street, so I throw both his bags down the hall
And I’m phoning a cab ’cause my stomach feels small
There’s a taste in my mouth and it’s no taste at all
It could have been me, oh yeah it could have been me
Why didn’t I say, why didn’t I say, no, no, no

She’s so swishy in her satin and tat
In her frock coat and bipperty-bopperty hat
Oh God, I could do better than that

You betcha
Oh, yeah
Uh-huh

What the hell was this song about? It was 1972, I was fifteen years old and I didn’t have a clue. But I knew that it was in some way subversive, and I was hooked. Here was my Elvis, my Beatles or my Rolling Stones: someone my parents would hate.

I was (as usual) a bit behind the times. There were other songs—‘Changes’, ‘Starman’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Space Oddity’—that other people apparently already knew. I was a nerdy, fifteen-year-old sci-fi geek, and here was the stranger in a strange land himself; here was the real Valentine Michael Smith. Those weirdly alien-sounding vocals, the bizarre haircut and make-up, the outrageous costumes. ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. It was all there. ‘Ziggy Stardust’ remains—and I don’t think this will be widely disputed—one of the greatest albums of all times.

Over the years David Bowie continued to evolve and experiment, to excite, baffle and disappoint his fans. I suspect all those who count David Bowie among their favourite recording artists will have their favourite era. This will probably be the era in which they first discovered him. He continued to re-invent himself, never content with the success of the past, never content just to repeat himself, never content to simply please his existing fan base. I always wanted everything David Bowie did to be touched with genius, but not all of it was, of course. I hate some of what he did. But he never gave up. He kept coming back. The ‘plastic soul’ era; the Berlin era; the ‘Metal Machine’ era; the ‘Scary Monsters’ era; the ‘new wave/pop’ era. I didn’t like everything he did; but someone else always did.

Then, later in life, in 2002, he surprised me with what I think is one of his best albums, ‘Heathen’. The next two were not so much to my taste. And the latest, ‘Blackstar’, released on his sixty-ninth birthday, just a couple of days before his death? Weird, certainly. I may hate it. I’m not sure. But, once again, he was David Bowie being out there, very much a stranger in a strange land.

There is, of course, much more to David Bowie’s life and career: his collaborations, his movies, his artwork, his internet savviness. He was always the consummate market expert, even down to the timing of his death. Love it or hate it, ‘Blackstar’ is almost guaranteed to become a classic.

David Bowie was my voice in the early years of the nineteen seventies. He expressed for me all the weirdness I was too timid to express myself. Over the years, even during those eras when I didn’t particularly like his work, he was never far from my thoughts. I always had an eye out for news about him. He has accompanied me through life since I was fifteen years old. He is the ultimate icon for my generation. The deaths of very few celebrities have moved me personally. The death of David Bowie has. I feel I have lost a friend and companion this day.

3 comments:

  1. Yes, I cried because he was the soundtrack to my self-creation, and recreation. He gave everyone the permission to invent and reinvent themselves, like a work of Art.

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  2. He was the ultimate performer. Apparently he was mime and a theatre person with experience of the German theatre before he created his personas on stage, and did not see himself as a rock star but as a performer. Now aspects of Black Star make sense. "Look at me I'm in heaven" and the "mask" with unseeing eyes, and he, the performer, withdraws into the wardrobe, a storage place for clothes/costumes ... brilliant! Now THAT was a performer. His work touched so many hearts and lives globally and yet he said recently he realised nothing really matters,certainly not ego, as you age, you just draw closer to a universal love. He was a friend and a teacher to many.

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  3. Yvonne Mahlape MaserumuleFebruary 17, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    Beautiful tribute! May his soul rest in peace...

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