Now that the shock of Bowie’s death has passed, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby gathers the site’s writers to share their personal reflections of a truly inspirational figure.
We are pretty sure you have read enough David Bowie obituaries over the last week to last you a lifetime. Each one of them about his cultural impact, what he did for sexuality and gender politics, his success…whatever. I think it is pretty safe to say that the world and its dog’s goldfish knows of David Bowie’s importance by this point.
We at GITHQ put something together the morning his death was announced. Like the rest of you, we were in shock. We knew we couldn’t have any kind of last word on the life and work of David Bowie, but also knew we couldn’t ignore that it had happened.
Instead, we invited you to leave your thoughts either in comments or on social media. Many of you did, and we thank you for that.
What is apparent is that David Bowie meant a million things to half a million people. He was ubiquitous in our lives, a constant presence that it was impossible not to be intrigued by.
It is impossible for a single writer to suitably do Bowie justice. So once the shock had worn off, we sent a message out to our writers; send us your thoughts, your memories, a personal reflection on what David Bowie was to you.
What we received was a series of very different pieces that shows the breadth of his impact on our lives. Some even confess that they have never bought a David Bowie album in their lives, and yet he somehow managed to impact them in other ways. Hopefully, between these sections, an iota of Bowie’s legacy can be revealed. And we’re sure that whatever you surmise that to be, it won’t be the same as anybody else’s conclusions.
That is the magic of David Bowie.
I was woken with the news of David Bowie’s death by a producer at City Talk. He was calling me for a reaction. Normally I don’t take too kindly to be woken up at 7:30 on a Monday morning when I had planned a lie in, but this seemed apt. Someone should call you when David Bowie dies.
I didn’t do the reaction piece, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I hadn’t really lived through Bowie. I hadn’t been shocked by his early 1970s Top of the Pops appearances. I hadn’t been dazzled by yet another re-invention. I’d simply realised he was good some time in my teens, bought a Best Of and danced my arse off.
But as the tribute’s poured in throughout the day, there did seem to be something missing. For all the talk of his reinventions, his bravery, his image, what he did for outsiders, what he did for attitudes towards sexuality, I did think it would be nice if someone just came on and pointed out he wrote about 100 bangers.
Because this is why there were teenagers as well as pensioners in mourning on my social media. Why he hasn’t just become an “iconic figure”, like say Marc Bolan or Jim Morrison, but is a legendary musician where everybody can rattle off a fair chunk of his back catalogue. Why his tunes can open the London Olympics and end an indie disco.
My abiding Bowie memory is linked to Space Oddity. For some reason it became an anthem for me and my mates when we were about 15. We used to drink in the Penny Farthing, and after four pints we’d put Space Oddity on the jukebox and sing our heads off. They must have thought we were mental, looking back. But we weren’t sat around discussing what David Bowie looked like. We were 15, pissed and singing along to a brilliant pop song.
Then there were a deluge of hits to get stuck into. I couldn’t care less about which songs were part of his Ziggy Stardust phase, and which ones he’d written in Berlin. It was just an extraordinary amount of good music. The volume of which I could only appreciate as I got older and started to compare him to other musicians. I loved Space Oddity and I loved Modern Love. It was only later that I learned they were released fourteen years apart.
Fourteen years! Who else does that? Approximately twenty years after getting his first record deal, he has a number one single. It almost feels unfair. Lads must have been sitting around with guitars wondering when he’s gonna fuck off and give someone else a go.
Of course all the other stuff is important too. But what makes him Britain’s greatest ever pop star is the endless brilliant songs. Changes, Starman, Life on Mars?, Rebel Rebel, The Jean Genie, “Heroes”, and whatever you are shouting at me right now. John Gibbons
“His Name Was Always Buddy”
I was ten years old when I saw Starman on Top of the Pops. For me, and millions of my age group, it was the damascene moment of our formative years, a pivotal moment that would inform our later years and what we got up to in our twenties.
But it was April 1973’s Drive-In Saturday that caught my pre-pubescent ears and continues to shake me every time I hear it. It is another maelstrom of abstract characters and far off places, conjuring images of the future whilst hanging on to a melody from the past. It contains that elusive item that makes perfect pop.
Bowie himself said it was constructed –as was the whole Aladdin Sane album – from the visions of modern USA he had witnessed as he toured as Ziggy Stardust into the hearts, minds and Top 40 of the new world.
The lyrics fascinated me. I cut them out from a Songwords comic and stuck them on my bedroom wall. I later found out that Bowie had written them about the post-apocalypse that seemed to inhabit a lot of his work during that period. His vision was of 2033, influenced by William Burroughs, and his leaning towards the abstract depicted a real, solid version of the future that all young ‘uns could hang onto; a vision that would serve us into our teenage years.
The injection of real people and characters into the lyrics influences me to this day; include your friends and neighbour in what you do, as though everybody knows them. In time they will do exactly that. I became so familiar with Carl Gustav Jung (the foreman), and Twiggy (“Twig the wonder-kid”, who adorned the cover of his next LP, Pin-Ups), and the unspecified Buddy in the first line of the chorus.
More than anything else, for the next few years, this was my favourite Bowie tune. It still speaks to me in a way most other pop music never has. So much so, that on October 4 1995, when it became apparent that my then-partner was about to give birth to a little boy, my adoration for one of the strangest songs ever written kicked in. My immediate thought sprung to Buddy, the fella from Drive-In Saturday… and so it is. He is our constant reminder of my pre-teenage obsession with that alien from outer space. And it suits him, he’s the only person I know named after a character in a Bowie song and he is only too aware of what it means to me.
My son Buddy is now a man, with curly hair like Bowie and an electric guitar. He shared my utter disbelief and hurt at the passing of one of the greatest British artists of the last 100 years, and I don’t just mean in pop. David Bowie was a true artist who broke the mould and changed things forever, like Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Warhol and the other colossi of the history of art. He will be remembered as a demi-god. Thankfully. Bernie Connor
“He Speaks Of Senseless Things”
A giant leap; “What’s that song dad?”
Thursday night ritual; homework (before I threw it on the fire), tea, Tomorrows World, Top of the Pops, comfortable discomfort on the sofa, pipe smoke, rocking chair, ironing board, “Get yer hair cut”, glitter, glam, guitars. Hey, that’s far out!
Same sofa, some time later. “Oh No! Not Time”. “He flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor”. You could cut it with a knife. Thanks, David!
Void 1: Punky reggae party. By the time I get to Berlin he’s gone
How Chic: We danced and got Kooky
Void 2: Bowie’s in space, Everyone Says Hi
Ten years go by. Lightning flash – I’d Rather Be High – Feel So Lonely I Could Die
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s guest is David Bowie, whose latest release, Blackstar, has gone straight into the charts at number 1. David, welcome, how would you describe Blackstar…”
Some things best left unsaid. Glyn Ackroyd
“Hot Tramp, I Love You So”
I first discovered Bowie in the 90’s, around the time I was falling in love with a Madchester fan on the 120 bus in a little town called Antrim. This girl had amazing style, incredible taste in music and she completely ignored me from the get go. I too was clad in the flares, the baggy shirts and amazingly I had the long hair. Sadly I also had a broken heart. Unrequited love eh? Who’d have it?
The first Bowie song that meant anything to me was Rebel Rebel. Written in the year I was born it was a song that I’d first heard in the now departed Auntie Annie’s bar in Belfast. There was a club night called Skibunny that had an unbeatable playlist and impressive drinks promos, its where I learned most of what I know about music. Rebel Rebel summed up everything I wanted from this as yet untested relationship with Ms Madchester, every time I heard it I thought of her and 20 years down the line the memory persists.
There is an ethereal power to it, an energy and a riff that is so unmistakably Bowie the instant you hear it you know what’s coming. It is autobiographical for thousands of us, it conjures up memories of parties, flings, lost love and lost youth, it is an incredible thing.
I had a very brief and unsuccessful stint as Dj Flackakhan in a club night in Belfast called Palookaville. The name makes no sense unless you know the club, but it’s moot now anyway since it has also sadly gone to the wind. You could guarantee the moment you faded into the first few chords of Rebel Rebel the floor would fill and the smiles would stretch from one wall to the other.
A remarkable thing to see.
I have no idea what happened to the girl, though! Christopher Flack
Oh! You Pretty Things
Like a lot of people in the late 30’s+ bracket, I first came across Bowie on Top of the Pops and just thought him odd; the make-up and weird clothes. My pre-pubescent teenage ignorance not yet realising the genius of the guy. Of course he would influence all the bands we would come to worship in the following decade profoundly.
It was the 80’s when he was a megastar with the likes of Let’s Dance and Dancing in the Street (he memory of him and Jagger “dad dancing” still makes me smirk) when I started paying attention. Bringing him to the masses for those that were less cool, not fully appreciating the ground-breaking Ziggy Stardust or Berlin eras.
Like a lot of my friends, in my very early teens it was all about Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Could the influence of Bowie be more obvious? I remember reading an interview with frontman Holly Johnson in the critically acclaimed (!) Smash Hits where he said their biggest influence was Bowie. Naturally I then looked up his back catalogue and it all made sense.
Seeing other Northern bands like Dead or Alive, Visage, Culture Club, Big in Japan, The Cure, The Smiths, New Order and it’s clear to see the influence Bowie had not only effected music from New Wave to Britpop, but also in fashion and the acceptance of androgyny, which takes precedant in the MTV era (though Bowie himself had taken on a much smoother look by that point). His legacy not only in music but all things fashion will live on.
Bowie rejected the establishment and it makes us love him more, he was one of us. The words legend and icon are massively overused yet in his case they don’t seem strong enough. Lisa Simmons
All The Young Dudes
David Bowie has always been part of my life. When I was younger, I viewed him as an elusive character, I knew he existed but I could never really get my head around him. By the age of about 8, I already knew the lyrics to Rebel Rebel and Starman, my sister and I both claimed a song each, and for some reason Rebel Rebel spoke to me.
I have a vivid memory of my dad asking if I wanted to see a David Bowie tribute act at the Mathew Street Festival. I didn’t quite grasp the concept of a tribute, so I jumped at the idea thinking I was seeing the Starman himself. After my mum calmed me down and explained it to me, it was safe to say I was slightly disheartened, but I dragged myself along anyway. The image of a pale, lanky man in a strikingly short, white kimono still stays, very much ingrained into my mind. It felt like an alien experience, viewing this outrageously dressed man performing this amazingly diverse set of songs, ranging from glam rock to just plain weird. I wasn’t sure what to say afterwards.
For a few, awkwardly dressed, conformative years, the love of Bowie faded. It wasn’t cool to like weird old guys with ugly hair, so I turned to the charts for my music feed. I really do feel sorry for my parents, to temporarily lose a child who knew The Smiths and David Bowie, to one who listened to Rihanna and Girls Aloud.
However, it was upon viewing Bowie’s 1972 Top of the Pops performance with Mick Ronson that I instantly fell back in love. His wrist. David Bowie’s right wrist, strumming on that blue guitar. Of all things, his wrist is the reason I reverted back to my love Ziggy and his ginger mullet.
Extreme credit is owed to my dad and his record collection for giving me the resources to indulge in the extent of Bowie’s music. Now I pretty much listen to a Bowie album or two daily. I love how varied, weird and wonderful his music is, and I wish I’d have had the chance to thank him for it and his defiance of any kind of societal norms. I’m glad I was around for just a few years of his momentous 69 year reign. Thank you David Robert Jones. Lily Corke Butters
I could talk all night about the great musical heritage David Bowie has left behind. We all could, and most of us are.
However throughout the 80s when, I was a teenager, Bowie‘s cinema presence affected me almost as much as his music. The Hunger terrified the life out of me, but Bowie‘s graceful presence elevated the movie above the status of a run of the mill gore flick. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence may have been my favourite film of the decade surely due to Bowie‘s enigmatic performance as Prisoner of War Jack Celliers. The performance barely makes sense but he effortlessly steals every scene nonetheless.
Bowie hired for the role after the film’s director saw him in a production of The Elephant Man on Broadway. He said Bowie had “an inner spirit that is indestructible.” Even Bowie himself called it his most credible performance.
As for Absolute Beginners, talk about saving a film from extinction. Killer theme song and the That’s Motivation sequence made that stinker an absolute must see.
He may not have been the greatest actor but, boy oh boy, could he set the screen alight. Del Pike
“A Couple of Kooks”
I’ve always been a sucker for weirdos, people who were their art. They were soaked in it, and for better or worse, were unable to separate themselves from it. It seemed to me that there was no conflict about what these people were to do with their lives. They were who they were and that made them brilliant. This was something that I found incredibly upsetting in a way, as I wanted to be like them. Sure, I could probably put myself in hospital with alcohol poisoning (Charles Bukowski), or fill a room in my house with sand so I could feel the beach between my toes without having to go outside (Brian Wilson), but what, exactly, would be the point?
One thing all of these people have in common was that they were American. Perhaps this added to their sense of otherworldliness. But Bowie was from Brixton, with a Welsh father and an Irish mother. Somehow, this made his particular brand of mental even more out there. It didn’t seem that he tried to be completely off the wall, he just was.
Before I delved into his music, I knew his face. He looked like he was from the moon. Pasty-skinned with a weird eye and wonky teeth. Yet somehow, incredibly sexy. The really sexy people, those who make you stop in the street, aren’t necessarily the ones with perfectly symmetrical features and a complexion to die for. They are the ones who are vitally present in their selves. Bowie was that.
As a teenager, I wondered whether I was making the right life choices. Was I doing existence right? Other people all seemed so possessed of themselves; I thought this came from knowing everything about themselves and the world. That was, I thought, what I needed to do.
Bowie didn’t pigeonhole himself. He didn’t need to, and he taught me that my view of the world was wrong. He wasn’t gay or straight, rock or funk, ginger or blonde. The only thing he was, was Bowie. His internal life, in all its contradictions, tribulations and conflicts, was reflected for all to see in his personas and his work. He was a continually evolving being, just like anyone, and yet most admirably, he seemed comfortable in that. Bowie taught me to be brave and, above all things, to thine own self be true. He defies explanation, and this is as it should be.
Listen to his music. It is not contrived to be weird, it just is. You think it sounds more heavily produced than it actually is. Many of the instruments are right at the front of the mix, and minimally tampered with. Piano, acoustic guitar, and voice. Very little ‘crazy’ effects, so where does the weird come from? It seeped out of his pores. Listen to that voice. It is a man deeply centred in himself, fragile, quavering at times, sounding naked and vulnerable at the same time as being completely fucking amazing and totally bonkers. He didn’t know all the answers, but importantly, he was cool with that.
That is a lesson I carry with me. When I reflect on what Bowie means to me, it is not a song, or a look, or a film that comes to mind first. It is the lesson – life doesn’t make sense, so stop trying to control and understand everything. Just live yours, and live it hard.
Rest in peace, you freaky old bastard. Paul Riley
Life on Mars
I have never bought a Bowie record, or even listened to one in its entirety. I know and like the famous ones, a couple of others perhaps. Rooting through the attic a couple of years back, I found a dusty, weathered old copy of Aladdin Sane in a box in the attic. Don’t know who it belongs to.
I remember being at a friend’s house, about 15 years old, his mum used to let us have a beer or two. She’d put a Bowie CD on and skipped through to Life On Mars?, drunk on three and a half Buds and a sip of whisky, me and my mates sang along, only, they knew all the words, I just mouthed along out of sync. They’d grown up with Bowie on the stereo, I hadn’t. But in that moment I wished that I had. That song sounded otherworldly, futuristic and like nothing I’d ever heard before – and it was made in 1971.
Back when brothers Gary and Phil Neville used to play at Manchester United, us Liverpool fans had an offensive chant to the tune of Rebel Rebel that was sung on many a coach or train on various away days. That same song provided one half of one of the most euphoric moments I’ve ever had in a nightclub, 42s in Manchester. The DJ dropped that and There She Goes by The La’s back to back as his last two tracks. It was one of those nothing nights that turned into one still reminisced about today.
I guess what I’m trying to say amongst this seemingly aimless waffle is that David Bowie’s music has the power to signpost people’s lives without them even realising. We are lucky to have had him. Tom Konstantynowicz
“You’re Not Alone”
I can clearly remember the first time I heard the majestic sounds of David Bowie but little did I know what a profound affect it would have on me. Sat in the back room having just finished my homework, I asked my Dad if it would be ok to listen to something on the record player. My Dad happily agreed but on the condition that I listened to a record he thought I would like.
The record was The Best Of Bowie and from the first moment Space Oddity came on to the bars of Sorrow I was put under a spell of complete wonderment.
I instantly put the needle back to the beginning and played side one from start to finish a further 5 times before even getting on to starting the same process from Diamond Dogs through to Boys Keep Swinging on Side Two.
I had never heard anything like it ever before and I don’t think anything has ever come close to having that reaction on me since. It was simply amazing. I didn’t even see him as a man but more of some sort of mythical figure that created these wonderful songs about things I had never heard sung about in songs before. Suicide, The Berlin Wall, Sex, it was just a wave of emotions that changed me forever.
He never conformed to the general norm but was not afraid to embrace change either. As a lad who got bullied in school for being a little different, the fact that someone else who was a little bit different could do this was mind blowing. He gave me confidence to be who I wanted to be and for that I will forever be eternally grateful to him.
Right up to his work with Arcade Fire and James Murphy, he was still having a massive effect on modern music that any artist will struggle to compare to over such a distance of time. Even in death he was visionary. Craig MacDonald
It took me a long while to really get David Bowie. He meant very little to me when I was first becoming a music fan, rather than just occasionally listening to the radio. Probably because this was at a time of his first career lull in more than a decade – a succession of 80’s gloss, star duets, goblins and hard rock. What was so special about this kind of chameleon?
I’d seen him late night, no doubt on Channel 4, in The Man Who Fell To Earth (which was perhaps just too ponderous and non-flashy for my not-at-all-deep teenage self) and the Ziggy Stardust concert movie. Being too young to have encountered this phenomenon at the time, instead I think I just decided that Bauhaus did the title song better. It was my semi-goth phase, after all.
I actually connected with him through the Eno link, so I started with the Berlin trilogy and then went backwards. Eno seemingly could do no wrong as I spun out from his early solo albums into Roxy Music, Talking Heads, John Cale, Devo and, of course, Bowie. I soon had to revisit that assessment thanks to the likes of U2 and Ultravox.
The Eno/Iggy/krautrock series that I first devoured was far from Live Aid, Queen and giant glass spiders.
While he might never have got much weirder than side two of Low, it was a bit of a revelation to then discover all the earlier, wildly innovative, diverse and wonderfully poppy albums from the first half of the 70’s, complete with scattered allusions to many other musical heroes I had already fallen for, like the Velvets and Bob Dylan.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to be following his career in real time as it took off – I can’t think of another artist apart from The Beatles to meld such wild creativity with huge commercial success and perfect pop songs across nearly a decade. To top all that, he appeared to be a man of some wit, refinement and sense of his own absurdity, as seen in quotes such as; “I’m always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don’t even take what I am seriously.” Will Neville
“Is It Nice In Your Snow Storm?”
Since I was born there’s been an increasingly annoying tradition in the Doyle household that each member of its immediate clan remain home on Christmas Eve. It isn’t enforced with an iron fist, just the promise of two morbidly disappointed faces.
This, along with countless other “traditions” that are religiously repeated every festive period, is accompanied by an annual viewing of Raymond Briggs’ animated classic The Snowman. It has to be said that when you’re watching it for the 26th time the main chunk of the story is tearfully dull. And yet with every cloud there is a silver lining.
The VHS version that we watch includes a short and captivating alternative introduction from David Bowie. He plays the grown up version of the blonde haired boy from the cartoon. It’s something that I genuinely look forward to as he even manages to make talking about a magical snowman giving him a scarf as a present seem effortlessly cool.
It’s certainly my earliest memory of Bowie and it introduced me to him way before I started listening to his wonderful music. So in about eleven months’ time when you find yourself watching The Snowman yet again, just remember that the boy walking in the air is actually a young David Bowie. Thomas Doyle
“Hooked to the Silver Screen”
David Bowie has never been a central figure when it comes to music and me. Yet, despite this, he is also ubiquitous. His impact was such that he was always present, helping to glue fragments of my life together. His music popped up during long fuelled university sessions of Rock Band, “Heroes” played a key role in the film version of Perks of Being a Wallflower, which played a key role in helping me cope with a number of personality issues during a certain time frame. I got it while it was hot.
And there he was in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, playing Agent Phillip Jefferies. Just like his public image in real life, Jefferies’ fleeting appearance was bizarre, eccentric and left a good portion of the audience scratching their heads.
He hurries to the office of Gordon Cole (played by Lynch himself) and starts raving in a loud and disturbed manner, eventually disappearing into thin air, shouting “I found something… and then there they were!”
And then he’s gone. Literally disappearing into thin air. Bowie himself had this to say of the appearance; “They crammed me. I did all my scenes in four or five days, because I was in rehearsals for the 1991 Tin Machine tour. I was there for only a few days.”
To many, the appearance made no sense. However, Lynch was setting up for further Twin Peaks movies that never saw the light of day due to Fire Walk With Me’s poor reception.
It’s a shame, really. Although the first Bowie movie most people will name first is most likely Labyrinth, roles like those in Twin Peaks or The Man Who Fell To Earth were really his forte. Would have been interesting to see where they would have taken it.
But he remained present in some form or another. That was what Bowie was to me. No doubt his music, words and film roles always will be. Joe Woodhouse
Rock N Roll Suicide
“I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering The Man Who Sold the World…it was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool.” – David Bowie
I was first switched on to David Bowie at the ripe old age of 13, not by my father’s record collection, or the commercial success of Let’s Dance (come on, I was only one-year-old in 1983), but – perhaps a little oddly – by Nirvana.
I was a big Nirvana fan in my teens, and would spend many hours listening to their MTV Unplugged album in particular. To this day, the rawness of that record cuts straight to the core. And you will probably be aware that they covered The Man Who Sold the World during their set.
Reading the liner notes of the CD, I discovered that it was written by one David Bowie. The minute I discovered this fact, that was it. I needed to find out more about the guy. The song was such a bizarre, futuristic tale of paranoia, the most prevalent themes in grunge. I couldn’t ignore it.
From there my respect and love for his music grew, and I was hooked. To my young eyes and ears, he – and the music he made – filled me with such fascination It is impossible not to sing along to Bowie no matter where you hear his tracks, and his music will be something that lives on for me long after his untimely passing. Ste Knight
My first memory of Bowie comes from 1996. I was seven years old, and he was received his Outstanding Contribution Award at the BRITS. I remember it so well for one important reason; I hated it. His set seemed to go on forever, and this was the Outside era – hardly music that is easy to digest when your favourite TV show is still Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
He was on Top of the Pops not long after, playing Hallo Spaceboy with Pet Shop Boys. I protested loudly, and was shushed mercilessly by the folks, being as they were big fans of both.
But, at the same time, his image was etched in my brain. There was something about the way he looked and acted that made me as mesmerised as I was repulsed.
A couple of years down the line, Little Wonder – the first single from Earthling? – showed up on Top of the Pops and I actually liked it. Another couple of years later and Top of the Pops 2 had a Bowie special, a career-spanning retrospective and interview. Truth be told, I was watching it because they promised a new Queen video (I loved Queen as a kid, no doubt attracted to Freddie Mercury’s over-the-top presence). It was a pretty rubbish remix of Under Pressure, but it was saved to the end. This meant I was able to watch nearly an hour of Bowie’s history. This was the first time I heard “Heroes”, Ashes To Ashes, Rebel Rebel and the first time I saw the video for Life on Mars? and his iconic performance of Starman.
I had always gone searching through my dad’s collections. I’d wake up early at the weekend and do it before he woke up, and went searching for some Bowie. The first vinyl I found was the Changesonebowie compilation and never looked back.
As much as I like discovering new bands, I especially love when you come across someone with history to read up on and a huge back catalogue. I always have, and most of my greatest heroes are people I have really had the opportunity to obsess over. I obsessed over Bowie, one era at a time.
Eventually, I was the one keeping up to date with him, not my folks. Shaun Ponsonby
How many times can you be ahead of the times? Learning about David Bowie all at once is certainly different to what it must have been like growing up with him. A 70s child had the thrill of wondering what shape his next incarnation might take. I haven’t had that experience. Yet even without the shock of that ‘ta-da’ unveiling, the completeness of Bowie‘s metamorphoses is still incredible and inspiring.
David Bowie was authentic in his artifice. He constructed his characters and carved our worlds for them to live in. His costume changes weren’t the result of some record company brainstorm or shitfaced agent hungry for a headline. They were gateways for his expression. Maybe it was because of this changeability, but I didn’t realise to what extent he’d got under my skin until Monday. Like many, I mourned for the man who carved the masks he wore and I’m sorry that he’s gone. With Blackstar, I got my ‘ta-da.’
My first contact with David Bowie‘s work was through comedy. Bowie was the comedian’s musician. His zaniness and eclectic career inspired the likes of Ricky Gervais, Adam and Joe and Flight of the Conchords. And he was in on the joke, playing along and approving from afar. But for these comedians he wasn’t just material, he paved the way for their alternative creativity. David Bowie made it okay for you to get your weirds out. To just slop your weirds out on the table and say “Look at me, I’m weird and I like it!” His music often plays just like a great joke does: you expect it to go one way and then it goes another way you never saw coming.
He also wrote one of the greatest “wish I was still with you, please come back to me” ballads ever in Letter to Hermione. Adele could do a whole album bemoaning the fact that no one’s ever going to write her a rueful tune as good as that. Now there’s a source of regret she can plunder till the release of 67. At which point people might ask her to go back to the “wish I was still with you, please come back to me” thing. And then they’ll remember Letter to Hermione and they’ll think, “Actually, you know what, don’t bother. Please stop it.” Jamie Carragher
“You Remind Me Of The Babe…”
I remember vividly the day I was first told that leaving Christmas decorations up too long would attract goblins. My breath caught in my throat, my heart pounded, and I flew to my still-decorated room as quickly as my tiny legs would carry me. Not to take the decorations down, not by any stretch. It was to find a secret hiding place so I could ensure they remained up permanently.
My flagrant breach of decorative etiquette went unrewarded of course – Jareth the Goblin King never came to whisk me away. Bowie himself however never left my imagination, and as the years progressed his myriad of musical incarnations became a permanent fixture in my mental landscape. My awed infatuation only grew – I was astonished by his freedom of expression, and what seemed to be a complete disregard for how anyone else might judge him. As I hit my teenage years my taste in clothes became ever more eccentric, and it was his inspiration that buoyed me through any moments of doubt. Purple leather stiletto-heeled cowboy boots that looked like butterfly wings? You betcha!
Anyone fortunate or unfortunate (depending on perspective of course) to have been a passenger of mine quickly became well versed in Bowie‘s repertoire – he was, and still is, the soundtrack to almost all of my journeys. Hell, I even love Tin Machine. Genuinely. You can all piss off on that front (I’m talking to you, strange man who ridiculed me during my purchase).
The greatest thing about Bowie was the fact that he was so many different things to so many different people, yet was an inspiration to us all. A strange, vital, miraculous creature who lit up a world that was never really ready for him, but that was even less ready to let him go. He’s left behind a hole that can never be filled. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful. Laura Coppin
“As Long As You’re Still Smiling”
A few years ago – circa 2011, before the release of The Next Day – a colleague shared their opinion on David Bowie with me. It was a shame, they said, that Bowie had undertaken semi-retirement. That he didn’t make music anymore; that he didn’t have anything left to say, or that he didn’t feel the need to say it. As often happens when somebody (particularly a manager at work, as in this case) suddenly shares an opinion with you which you hadn’t considered before, I acquiesced.
As time has passed however, I couldn’t disagree with that appraisal more vehemently. Bowie did exactly what he wanted, conducted his career only in the way that he himself dictated. He never faded away. He never felt himself being taken for granted. And he absolutely never traded off his past. These are just a handful of the hugely admirable and incredibly rare artistic traits he possessed.
Throughout his career, whatever else David Bowie’s music did, it always made me smile. Whether providing carefree, shape-throwing joy in the form of Modern Love and Let’s Dance, Outside causing me to furrow my brow at its astounding avant-garde industrialism, or simply leaving me breathless with appreciation at a monumentally talented songwriter, it never failed to put a smile on my face.
It’s my earnest wish that Bowie knew how much he was loved and appreciated by all generations. I hope, and I think, that he did. You only need look to Blackstar’s reception, or the gasps his Arcade Fire Reflektor cameo received, for evidence of that.
Thanks for all the good times you gave us, David. Thanks for everything. David Hall
“A Room Of Bloody History”
From March through to August 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted the most successful, and biggest selling exhibition in their history. With their well-established focus being on celebrating great design, no more appropriate venue could have been selected for David Bowie Is, a vast exhibition drawn from the man’s astonishing career, curated from the equally vast David Bowie archive.
I was lucky enough to stroll through the exhibition just after its opening, and was utterly awestruck by what I saw. If I knew then what I know now, that David Bowie Is would soon become David Bowie Was, I’d probably still be there now. There are few aspects of our cultural existence that have not been touched by the life and times of David Robert Jones, and to spend three happy hours surrounded and consumed by the story, the artefacts, the costumes, handwritten lyrics and journals, to stand awestruck only inches away from the beautiful quilted two piece Freddie Burretti suit which he so memorably wore on that now iconic 1972 Top Of The Pops performance of Starman, was an experience I will cherish forever, even if I visit the exhibition again.
That first time will always be with me, always remain, as much as the first time I discovered Aladdin Sane, or the first time I saw him in all his androgynous glory as a small child, or the first time I saw him live.
From childhood, to the present day, and touching all points in between, it was a privilege to have access to the archive, to step inside his world and understand so clearly how his ideas were formed and developed. I read his prolific notes on each aspect of each project, and gained such insight into the thought processes behind this incredible body of work. The use of sound in all of this was critical, and the V&A didn’t shy away from their responsibility there.
This incredible career and very special life has touched us all so profoundly. We are certain that we will absolutely never be so privileged to witness anything like it again. Only a madman would now suggest that the exhibition will cease touring in Japan in 2017, and that we’ll be unable to take another visit.
On the July 8, he paid a visit himself to the V&A, and signed the Visitors Book. In the comments section, he wrote “It was ok”.
David Bowie Is. David Bowie Was. David Bowie Always Will Be. Paul Fitzgerald
Memory of a Free Festival (Part 1)
In 2000 I witnessed Bowie play his heart out at Glastonbury, late on a Sunday night on a newly-renovated Pyramid Stage. The official licensed crowd figure was 100,000, but there must have been at least twice that number there watching him – this was just before the ‘superfence’ was put up, and the polite, paying audience was swollen of fence-jumping scallies and chancers all intent on having the best time of their lives. The mix produced an electric atmosphere.
For a man who at the time was well into his mid-50s, Bowie danced, sang and played with the vim and vigour of a sprightly teenager. He was adored by the crowd and he adored them back.
Truth be told, I’m not the biggest Bowie fan in the world. I didn’t grow up with him or spend hours poring over his albums in any way. That night however, as he finished with a rousing and simply magnificent encore of “Heroes”, I certainly saw what all the fuss what about.
At the very, very least Glastonbury should name a stage after the man. Chris Burgess
Memory of a Free Festival (Part 2)
This was the last Glastonbury before it all changed with the super wall and ticket day traumas. The Glastonbury where it had to change. When I arrived on site I automatically walked to the turnstile without acknowledging the fact that the turnstile was the only thing standing in that particular area. “You can give me your ticket to tear up mate, or just walk around the side and keep it as a souvenir” I was told. I don’t have the souvenir now, but I have the memories.
This was the greatest of my Glastonbury Festivals. It felt so exciting, vibrant and happy. On the day before the festival started David Bowie had cancelled one of his warm up shows in New York. This lead to angst and panic on site. Everybody wanted to see The Thin White Duke thirty years after he performed at the first Glastonbury. I can remember Michael Eavis saying, “David has called me and said not to panic, he is coming, he is playing for two hours and he’s going to blow your socks off”.
The two acts on the Pyramid Stage before Bowie were Embrace and the Happy Mondays. At the front of the field was a strange mix of generations as everybody wanted to be as close as possible. I remember an old hippy woman giving out flowers to people who would let her move closer to him and then a Bowie obsessive demanding that he be let closer on virtue that he deserved it as he had seen him so many times. The obsessive got short shrift from people, the old hippy gave out many flowers.
It is usually a brilliant excitement as you wait for a headline act at a festival. People singing along to Stand By Me and sharing drinks around. This time it was different. There was a tension in the air. It was as though nobody wanted to get too excited in case it all went wrong yet there was no way we could not get excited. Every second made it closer to Bowie. Then the music stopped playing and in the darkness it seemed like magic was happening as Gail Ann Dorsey, Bowie’s bassist and solo artist in her own right, crossed the stage, yet all you could see was the illuminous pink dress she wore. It looked like it was floating as she took her position. The tension dissipated in an instant as people started to giggle, wonder and laugh. Then as the band started to play this man strode out on to the stage. I don’t know how tall David Bowie was, but that day he looked to me like a giant. It was as though his personality had taken hold of him so that he was not larger than life, but rather making life larger.
The opening song was not one that the twenty year old version of me was familiar with, but from the opening syllables I fell in love with Wild Is The Wind. It sounded grandiose and strangely provocative in that it wasn’t just a Greatest Hits pop song to start. Then we were treated to China Girl with all its knowing winks and kookiness.
However what came after that I will never forget, as he moved in to singing Changes. The crowd roared and everybody started to jump up and down in excited moshing. To this day I have never experienced an audience surge like that. It felt like being a child in the sea for the first time. I was hit with fear and elation. It was otherworldly. Even now thinking back I’m reminded more of floating than pogoing.
Obviously with fifteen and a half years separating this moment and that my memory is not able to pick out much out after that in any ordered fashion. Although I was stone cold sober I was so very, very high on life. I can remember Dorsey joining him to do the Freddie Mercury role on Under Pressure, and the man himself telling everybody about sleeping in the farmhouse the first time around and going on to stage about 4am.
When he played “Heroes”, there was close to 200,000 people singing in unison, and finished on I’m Afraid of Americans, which sounded so angry, confrontational, dramatic and artistic.
I’ve comfortably seen thousands of gigs in the meantime, but nothing ever will compare. As in life itself, he blew everybody’s socks off as promised.
Rest in Art, as I don’t think peace would suit you. Gary Lambert
“Look Up Here, I’m In Heaven”
I like to feel as though I stumble across music to love, rather than following the charts or recommendations – and this is exactly how I found Bowie. Like he was my secret. What I realised with the public outpouring of grief was how many felt that way about him. However absurd it sounds, he belonged to us all. Listening to radio presenters audibly tearing up was quite overwhelming.
It became immediately clear that his cancer had been the main influence of Blackstar. Knowing it was terminal, Bowie dealt with it as best he could. You can hear him fighting his illness in each track, wrestling with the inevitable. He was creating his Swan Song in isolation.
“Ain’t that just like me?” he sings in Lazarus. Yes it is. This track and the accompanying video are possibly the most direct and spellbinding. The beat is slow and considered the melody of the saxophone sloping and heavy, each line of lyrics punctuated by distorted guitar riffs. The video shows Bowie lying in a hospital bed, eyes bandaged, floating in the air, only to be held back by tightly fitted sheets. During the bridge we see him looking more agile, swinging his hips and reminiscing about “living like a king” in New York. After the saxophone solo, the track then pulls back, the reverb on the guitar sounding like water swishing around a metal bowl, an unusual yet familiar sound. The unsteadiness of the sound fits perfectly with the subject matter, which is dizzying to say the least.
Throughout Bowie’s tremendous career he adopted different personas as a way of expressing himself. By the end of this album, it feels as though we are hearing David Jones the man, attempting to explain his ambiguity. As if understanding the impact his death would have on his fans, it is warm and comforting.
Blackstar is a fascinating album, regardless of the artist’s situation, but once the final track is over, it’s really over.
I believe when an icon such as Bowie passes, it not only feels like the loss of a loved one, but it is a short sharp dose of reality. As a fan you lose an artist’s view of the world which has helped shape your own and you are faced with the harsh realities of your own mortality. When questioned why I feel so strongly about certain artists I am reminded of a quote by Quincy Jones, in which he responds to a question about his love for music.
Jones explains that after losing his mother, he let music be his mother. He was educated about life through music and it was where he turned for comfort. I can imagine that this is an apt explanation for any real music fan. It has informed us and cradled us consistently. When something so personal is taken away, it is quite natural to grieve. David Bowie provided this to an unimaginable number of fans, spanning generations across the globe. All we can hope is that he truly realised his accomplishments before his death.
After twenty seven albums and five decades his music is currently dominating the charts in a way that many would find impossible. In an age of disposability and uncertainty it can be distressing when iconic figures leave us. So, thank you, David, for sharing your world view, your experimentation and your relentless creativity. You made the world a more interesting place. Janaya Pickett
“I Never Done Good Things”
Sorry I cannot help you on this one though I am flattered you asked me. David Bowie has never really impinged upon my life though I can assure you that no-one in the pop music world is more important than The Beatles; you are not a true Liverpudlian if you think otherwise. Bowie’s death filled the air waves, social media and the papers; what will happen when Paul McCartney dies? Peter Goodbody’s Mum (with a stereotypically scouse response!)