Friday, 2 December 2016

2016 In Memoriam: David Bowie

David Bowie, aged 69



(By Photobra|Adam Bielawski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)





Bowie really should have died back in the 70s during the period he was eating nothing but raw peppers and drinking milk between binges of coke and heroin, at one point dropping below 90 pounds. He claims to remember almost nothing of 1976, including most of the recording of Station to Station. Yet he still had the wherewithal to pack up his things, grab Iggy Pop and move to Berlin where the two of them managed to sort themselves out — and also make some brilliant music.I saw David Bowie in concert many times, took in all his movies and read every book on the man. I was also fortunate to meet him face-to-face twice. The first time was during the Tin Machine era when I was granted a 30-minute one-on-one interview. I was so gobsmacked after he walked into the room alone, thrust his hand at me and said, “Hello, I’m David,” that I forgot to unpress “pause” on my tape recorder and failed to capture a single word.”
Alan Cross, David Bowie is not supposed to die, National Post, 11 January 2016



Ah, right, yes.



*Glances at all the expectant faces*


Feck!



I can start by telling you the exact moment I fell for Bowie. I’d spent so long trying to avoid it, as he was my mum’s favourite singer, and therefore had to be uncool. I’d bought her the DVD of music videos which came out in 2003, but don’t make me watch any of it. 


Then, when I lived in Maryhill for a year in 2005-6, I became increasingly reliant on the radio for the news and music. The local channel played whatever the Glaswegian DJs wanted to hear, which was everything from the infamous Scottish 2006 World Cup anthem – we hadn’t qualified, it was based around a player called Jason Scotland, who didn’t play a single minute in the tournament – to the great man Gerry Rafferty. But the wonderful thing about radio, which I miss, is that anything can follow anything. 


So it was that a song I’ve forgotten the name of – a song that even Ben Adams doesn’t know (“I’m everything I ever wanted to be, for sure”), forgettable 80s bubblegum stuff – was followed by the opening strands of Ashes to Ashes.


I didn’t even realise who it was, until the announcement at the end of the song. I’d hid myself away from my mother’s fandom so much, I didn’t even recognise one of the most recognisable voices in the world. 


And by the end of the song, it was too late. It was in my head. It’s never left.


It is a bloody good song, you know. I like it better than Space Oddity, myself, in the same way I prefer Return of the Jedi to Star Wars. (In my head I keep going to write Revenge of the Jedi, which suggests child me missed the entire point...)


Naturally I phoned Mum up and casually told her “Oh, there was a Bowie song on the radio, and it was no bad...”


She replied in her attempted casual super happy voice which she has only ever used since for my first professional sale, and the appearance of a Sarah. And then she named thirty songs trying to work out which one.


My mum, you see, really, really, really loves David Bowie.





“IN THE history of space exploration, 1969 was the year. On July 20th, the Apollo 11 mission successfully landed two American astronauts on the surface of the moon. The world was abuzz with space fever—Stanley Kubrick’s galactic movie classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, had been released only the previous year—and would continue to be throughout the next decade. Into this world stepped David Robert Jones, a fey 22-year old from Bromley, London, with a strange, haunting song about an astronaut, Major Tom, floating, lost in orbit. “Space Oddity”, released five days ahead of the Apollo 11 launch, and first broadcast by the BBC during its coverage of the landing, made Mr Jones a star. David Bowie, as he by then called himself, was born.It is fitting, therefore, that Mr Bowie’s last studio album should have arrived—on his 69th birthday, and two days before his death from cancer on January 10th—as Britain enters a new phase of extraterrestrial exploration, with Major Tim Peake set to carry out the first ever spacewalk by a British astronaut on January 15th. “Blackstar”, released two years after his comeback record, “The Next Day”, confirmed beyond all doubt Mr Bowie’s status as the ultimate outsider in the pantheon of ageing rock icons: a man whose imagination, daring and ambition were not only undimmed but redoubled in his fifth decade of musical creation. Indeed, much as enthusiasm for space travel seemed to wither by the 1980s only to bounce back in recent years, Mr Bowie’s career, since he returned in 2013 after a ten-year absence, entered a final, and unexpected, phase of its own.”
T.G., David Bowie’s final album “Blackstar”, Economist review, 11 January 2016



It’s a statement of her own individualism, after all, Mums, Bowie and her love of his music being analogous to her own rise. When she was getting into music, her – my – family were somewhat deeply religious, and the concept of my mum as a teenager listening to rock music filled them with dread.


I know the feeling, the concept of Mum as a teenager is one my head can’t quite get around, but bear with me.


When mum’s school prize went on something for her younger siblings, my granda Bob’s older brother Harry (a Mantovani lover fond of telling jokes, and who, unable to have kids of his own, viewed it his role in life to spoil all his nieces and nephews as much as possible) bought mum her first transistor radio. I bet Gran loved that one. 


By that, Mum swiftly found the pirate radio stations, and that’s how she found Bowie. He was to become the artist behind the first album she ever bought. When she was told that if she wanted to buy a copy of that man’s music, she’d have to do it with her own money, she saved up, and twelve year old mum bought a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. Much to family chagrin, as they viewed Bowie as one of the epitomes of this sinful rock music.


“What would the Vatican say?” she heard, playing Starman over and over. 


That, if an all powerful god existed, the thing which got most on his goat would be guitar music, is a concept entirely alien to me, but then, so is the fact that some of the folk who thought this back in the day were the same who thought Dave Allen was the funniest thing since a man fall into a canal.


I mean, he IS, but he's the chap who said "may your God go with you". Still, that's humans for you.


As the rebel who told people not to listen to societal norms, and to be themselves, he was the perfect role model for a young girl who would later become, not only the first woman from her area to get to university, but a world authority in her own passion subject of history. Never mind people who said she couldn’t, or the fact she was attempting to break into a male dominated world in the 1970s and 1980s,


After all, what was it David Bowie said again?


“I ought to report you to the Gnome Office!”

No, sorry, that’s The Laughing Gnome. 



“The shame was on the other side, we can beat them, forever and ever, then we could be heroes just for one day.”


Yep, that’s right.





“As many pointed out, it wasn’t about Bowie’s own orientation — he made a few contradictory statements over the decades about his sexuality, but the father of two had been married to wife Iman for more than two decades at his death and was previously married to a model/actress — but the sense of liberation he gave others. “David Bowie will always hold a special place in the hearts of many LGBT people,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD, in an email message. “He was a beacon for all those who felt alienated because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, helped many to understand and accept themselves, continually challenged gender norms, and proved that being different is not only okay — it is something to be proud of.” Gauthier, the singer, noted that for her, Bowie’s key message had nothing to do with sexual orientation.“It’s about gender,” she said. “He shattered the binary idea of gender — as being male or female — and he created that middle. He showed us what a man looked like in a dress, and it was beautiful. There was an inner femininity, but it was masculine, too.”And he was the essential outsider, she said; in fact, he gave the impression of coming from outer space, so other-worldly was his ethereal appearance.“But he was MORE than human,” Gauthier added, “and not less than human. That’s an important difference.” Associated Press, 12 Jan 2016



I suppose with Bowie you could start with The Laughing Gnome. It does, after all, contain what Jon Arnold considers one of the great bad puns in music history: the London school of ecognomics. There’s also a direct line between that, his portrayal in Labyrinth, and even the black humoured joke at the heart of Blackstar.


You could even start with his appearance on TV, for a laugh, as the spokesperson for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. He was seventeen, it was a way to get on the box, and esteemed BBC man Cliff Michelmore does his best not to corpse through the whole thing. It makes sense this person would duet with the Pet Shop Boys a mere thirty years later.


Though I suppose the best starting place is 1963, when a sixteen year old arrived home one day to tell his horrified parents that he wanted to be a pop star.


His mum responded by trying to get him a real job instead.


Perhaps she’d had a premonition of Ricky Gervais?


He floated between bands, and in 1967, yes, he released The Laughing Gnome! Which failed to chart, giving David Bowie something in common with the modern day Peter Andre. “It was the flop it deserved to be”, said William Mann of the Times, but as Bowie became more successful, it started to gain something of a cult ironic fandom. Bowie himself was slightly embarrassed by it, to say the least, and there was later NME attempts to get it onto his gig playlist by fan vote. (And in 2003, he almost played it at a gig in Glasgow, of all places, before changing his mind...)


But meh, I’m of the view that while the person may develop their art as they get older, the early, raw, flawed stuff points to what they will be. There is a prevalent sense of humour running straight through the heart of Bowie, where grand philosophical views mix with the kitchen sink, and space men mix with horny people (and even coalesce into the one euphemism), and anytime the art threatens to become worthy or over pretentious, there’s that inner Bowie wanting to prick the pomposity.


There’s a famous story about the filming of the Ashes to Ashes video. There’s Bowie dressed up as a clown, trying to look deep, with Steve Strange and the others in front of a bulldozer on a beach. It comes across better in the video, but anyhow, there they are ready to film, when an old guy and his dog walks into view. The director walked over to the old guy, and asked him if he knew who that was, and pointed towards David Bowie. “Of course I do”, said the old man, “It’s some cunt in a clown suit!” As Bowie said to Michael Dignum, “It put me back in my place and made me realise, yes, I’m just a cunt in a clown suit.”


But I think he had that inner old man’s outlook in him all along. Whenever his work threatened to get oustentatious, he danced about with Mick Jagger, or he follow Ashes to Ashes on the same album with Fashion! So mock the Gnome all you want, but it’s quirky humour, and genuine playfulness, is more typical Bowie than Let’s Dance.



It’s the Scottish element in it, you see, which works, given he took the name “Bowie” as he assumed it was Scottish. Pronounced “Bow-ee” here as in “to bow before the Queen”, but hell, the pronunciation changes all around Scotland, let alone the world, and even the man himself lost track of it.



“Although the piano part on the final recording is played by Rick Wakeman (soon to become the Rick Wakeman of Yes fame), the song was written during a protracted spell of songwriting at the piano by David, trying out various chord inversions. This intense focus would yield not only “Life on Mars?” but also “Changes,” as David would later recall on his website: “I played my plodding version and Rick wrote the chords down, then played them with his inimitable touch.”Reflecting on how insistent the song became in his head while writing it, David told the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy… I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice.” Fraser McAlpine, 10 Things you need to know about david bowie’s life on mars, BBC America, Jan 2016




But let’s get to the actual music. Which is where I sort of stumble, because you see, when Mum could rattle off the names of any track on any album, when she first heard it, and what the liner notes say, I can’t. Whilst I have listened to several of his albums – Mum assisted, you know – the tracks which stick in my mind tend to be the ones which stick in everyone else’s minds. Forever the dilettante rather than the fan. 


I blame the fact that, post Ashes to Ashes road to Damascus moment, my introduction to other Bowie was Mum’s 2-CD Best of. You know the one. It’s a funny thing too, on first listen, my response was “Oh yeah, that song”, followed by “oh yeah, that one”, and so on. Childhood osmosis, can’t think where from...


I happen to think that those songs are very well made, and that his final album, Blackstar, is a work that will be reassessed and reassessed by future music writers, alongside the likes of Innuendo, Double Fantasy and America IV: The Man Comes Around. It already has begun this transcendence, although to my eyes it appears to have moved from “why is this album foreshadowing death” to “ah, that’s why it was foreshadowing death”.



“Something happened on the day he died

Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside

Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried

(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”

David Bowie, Blackstar (2016)



So, being a dilettante, I thought, the best way to look at Bowie’s music, from the prospect of the outsider, was to rank my favourites and explain why they work, for me anyhow. With a career path and oeuvre of being like his, it seems everyone is attracted for different reasons, so I can’t pretend to know what appeals them to other people.



20. Oh You Pretty Things!

One Sarah has taken to dancing to.

Wake up you sleepy head”. Do I have to?

Mum loves this song, I think the “don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane?” appealed to her, in the ongoing case of Mum and Bowie vs Orthodoxy.

I love how essentially, like most of Bowie, its a love song, but on another note, you could read it as a man haunted by nightmares and ghosts. “All the nightmares came today and it looks as though they’re here to stay”. Yeah, what we have here is Bowie’s Jamesian horror, the pop singer who never read a warning to the curious and now the damned things made home in his house.

I casually remind you about the Death of the Author. Barthes, that is, though he’s dead too now, of course. A joke, of course, but one of the things which got me into Bowie is the feeling that, if you squint enough, he’s actually telling audio version of M.R. James ghost stories. And there’s enough in this song for it be to archetypal of that feeling. Apparently others find it the best music to read John Wyndham to, and Strange Fascination by David Buckley points out direct references to Alistair Crowley within the text, so... perhaps that interpretation isn’t so wide from the mark!

Written in 1971 for Hunky Dory, and paying homage to the style of an earlier Beatles track – Martha my Dear – it’s got the Spiders on instruments.



19. Lazarus

“Look at me, I’m in heaven”

Possibly a grower, another of Bowie’s epitaphs, but this one is more vivid, more direct. There’s no doubt the narrator of Lazarus is already gone, but here it is, speaking to us from beyond.

When other people like to make the facetious claim that someone will comment on their own funeral, Bowie actually does.

“It’s his epitaph.” Bob Harris, BBC

On the day he died, Jon was heading into work when he saw the billboards for Blackstar. “David Bowie rises again!” they proclaimed triumphantly. “Even Jesus needed three days!” he told me!



18. Absolute Beginners


I like it, so there.


“A heartbroken man is trying out love once more. He’s been down so long that it feels like it’s the first time again, and he’s so intoxicated by the promise that he feels as though he can start over from scratch. But he can’t, and he knows it—his eyes are open, his feet are on the ground, he’s unfortunately sane. The first verse closes with “I absolutely love you/but we’re absolute beginners“: it’s a declaration undermined with a quick caveat. If I don’t know anything about love anymore, then I don’t know if this will work.There’s wariness in the chorus as well, despite the unbounded joy of the vocal melody and the soaring sentiments about flying over mountains and laughing at oceans (though recall that Bowie’s not talking about love here but its commercial vehicles—songs and films). Where the first chorus finds Bowie reassuring his love, saying that there’s no reason to dwell on the past, to be pessimistic, by the chorus repeat he’s come back down. If there are reasons to be afraid, if you are worried you’re making another mistake, then you may well be right. And you realize Bowie’s been playing with the word “absolute” the whole time. “Absolute” as an adjective means an unconditional fact, as in a pledge of “absolute” love, but the word also means to be completely independent, to be utterly whole. Two absolute beginners may be awful lovers, for they’re complete in themselves and need nothing else added.”
Chris O’Leary, Absolute Beginners, Pushing Ahead of the Dame, 12 January 2012 


The video, as seen below, has some lovely comic moments too.






17. Where Are We Now?



In 2013, a decade after well publicised retirement following well publicised ill health, David Bowie released this song. The world woke up to the news that Bowie was trending, and it was because he’d released a new single, and not the usual reason someone is found to be trending over night.


Well, I say the usual reason, lately it’s been because people are having birthdays, which doesn’t seem a good reason to give the world a collective Aretha Franklin heart attack, but that’s neither here nor there.

When I saw the news about the new Bowie song, I immediately told Mandy.

“Big news about David Bowie!” I said.

“Oh fuck, he’s died, hasn’t he?” she replied.

I told her about the new song.

So I texted Jon. He’s a massive Bowie fan.

“Did you hear the news about Bowie?”

“Oh fuck, he’s not dead is he?” came the reply.

Then he found out about the new song.

So, when I spoke to mum later that day, I changed tact.

“What do you think of the Bowie?” I asked.

“Bowie’s dead?” yelled Mum.

I think it’s telling that the biggest Bowie fans I know all thought the idea of him being dead was more credible than him releasing a new single. Instead, they got three years of new material, even if Mum said, at the time, “He’s got the sense of something being up”. The timeline – eighteen months liver cancer – doesn’t fit with the science, but I get what she meant. And what he might have.

It’s aided by Bowie the man not doing interviews about the song, and leaving Tony Visconti to tour the studios, acting as though he were the disciple or prophet to an unseen force.

This is a tune which grows on you.



16. Space Oddity


A famous one, played by the BBC during the coverage of Apollo 11’s moon landing. Which, given the content, one might suggest was distinctly inappropriate! Here we have a mellow, melodic, funeral song for a lost hero, our Major Tom, who goes up into space, but something goes wrong, and he dies. Now, people go directly to Ashes to Ashes, and say, look, Major Tom’s in that, he can’t possibly die in this song.


To which I say, whatever gave you impression he’s alive in Ashes to Ashes. The hint’s in the title, is it not?


So we play the threnody out.




15. Hallo Spaceboy

A combination with the Pet Shop Boys, and so, I assume, one of Jon Arnold’s favourite songs ever written. I know it’s quite popular among Bowie’s fellow bisexuals. “Do you like girls or boys, it’s confusing these days."
.

14. Suffragette City

A riff heavy track.

13. Starman

One of Sarah’s favourites as she was humming it in the bathroom the other day. 



12. Man Who Sold The World


Much better song when not song by Kurt Cobain.

11. Black Tie White Noise

OK, maybe not a popular Bowie track, but I loved it as a kid.



10. China Girl

One mum likes which she played a lot and as such has grown on us. 


9. Rebel Rebel

A theme tune for life under Tory Britain in its title, this is more the song of love gone wrong and how those afflicted wont wilt under the pressure.


8. Blackstar

In Ashes to Ashes, Major Tom is the shadowy figure from beyond the veil, sending messages as the starman becomes part of the night himself. By the time of Blackstar, we once more hark back to Space Oddity, only this time, our shadowy figure in the night is Bowie himself. It’s a conscience echo in spirit of the earlier two songs, and one gets the impression Bowie thought of it years ago, but held back, knowing it would have to be his farewell.

But is it farewell? For much of Bowie is played out within reach of this shadow, the character of Bowie itself a sort of ethereal creature at one with the night and the stars more than his fellow man. Indeed, on the day he died, in Blackstar, the person calling out their name is, naturally, David Bowie himself. Perhaps what he’s pointing out is that, while David Jones is mortal and has come to the end, David Bowie himself will live on, in a sort of created being sense.

Or maybe we’ve just travelled to Pseud’s Corner, but you get the idea.



7. Ziggy Stardust


“So where were the Spiders?” sings Bowie. Eh, I think you just sacked them, mate.



““DB: This I think is a really lovely song. It sounds really good even today, it's a good bit of songwriting. It was probably one of the first songs I wrote for Ziggy based on this concoction based on an American guy called Vince Taylor who came over to Britain and totally out of his mind. He was a failed Elvis impersonator from America but he went to France via England and made himself an Elvis in France and then one night went out on stage as Jesus and said that his music was over and he was here to save the world (laughs). Vince is no longer with us I'm afraid. I hung out with him for a while when he was over in London, he was quite out of his tree. I remember one day he took me down Tottenham Court Road and he had a map of the world and he laid it out on the pavement and showed me where all the Martians were gonna land. And we were like kneeling over this map in the middle of the rush hour and I thought where is this bloke at, He's out of his gourd and then I lost track of him. But someone like that stays with you and he became the role model for Ziggy, one of the many. Then I put together these bits and pieces of other artists and they all became this rather grand, stylish lad, Ziggy.”
Bowie on Ziggy and Lady Stardust, BBC Radio 1, Jan 8 1997


We have a new defender at Partick Thistle called Ziggy Gordon. I am yet to learn if he plays guitar.



6. Life on Mars


Sometimes the best gentle tease is the ones that fit so well into the lyrics, one can easily mishear it and not have it change the tone of what they assume the singer is singing about. “Now the workers have struck for fame, cause Lennon’s on sale again.” Honestly, for most of my life I heard that as “Lenin”, and it seemed to make sense with the previous lyric. I prefer it being a casual dig at John Lennon, because I hate John Lennon, but that’s besides the besides.



“Gloriously strange sci-fi anthem. A stirring, yearning melody combines with vivid, poetic imagery to accomplish a trick very particular to the art of the song: to be at once completely impenetrable and yet resonant with personal meaning. You want to raise your voice and sing along, yet Bowie’s abstract cut-up lyrics force you to invest the song with something of yourself just to make sense of the experience, and then carries you away to a place resonant with intense, individual emotion. The magic and mystery of music and lyrics. It is something to behold.” Neil McCormick, Telegraph 7 Feb 2016



5. Changes

A song I referenced in the first Celestial Toyroom issue of this year, written in December, and therefore doomed David Bowie. Sorry about that, folks.

4. Sound and Vision

Probably has the best intro riff of any Bowie song. 



3. Heroes

What I like about this song is that is hope, not direction, and a possibility, not a platitude. It’s not “we are heroes”, “you are heroes”, “everyone’s a fucking hero, pass me the sick bag.” It’s “we CAN be heroes”, not might, or will or are destined to be. That everyone, in the right opportunity, can act for the greater good. I like that hope.



2. Modern Love

Right, so, as many of you know, I’m a big wrestling fan. When someone new debuts, there is a way of telling if the company, if Vince McMahon’s lot, want them to be a big deal, fairly quickly. It’s the music. I don’t mean who performs it, although if a wrestler returns with Motorhead as their calling signature you know a world title’s on the way. I mean the style of the tune.


(By Elmar J. Lordemann (de:User:Jo Atmon) (Own work — photography by Jo Atmon) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)


Take Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the biggest stars in wrestling, for example. His was a simple guitar riff, da da da da da da, DA! Then look at Tazz’s WWF theme, back when he was meant to be a monster. Da, Da, Da, Da... Same similar structure, if different tune. Kurt Angle, Olympic gold medallist, and later multiple time World Champion in pro-wrestling. Da da, da da, da da, da da...It’s the same beat, played slowly or quickly, but in relatively tempo, akin to the instruments resembling a heartbeat. It’s used all the time in wrestling to promote A Big Thing Coming, most recently in theme tunes of Roman Reigns, Asuka and Samoa Joe. It’s the same trick that Dvorak used for the build up to the crescendo of the New World Symphony and which John Williams played homage to (that’s the right phrase, yeah?) in the famous Jaws leitmotif. You know. Da da, da da, da da da da da da da etc. You know shits going to go down, and the adrenaline starts going, because the music is so reminiscent of a person’s own heart in these moments of excitement or dread.


Now when you listen to Modern Love, it follows much the same pattern. “da da, lyric. Da da, lyric. And so on...”


I find someone interested in the aesthetics of music itself can’t help but be drawn to it. It’s in our DNA, that structure.


Explaining Bowie via the use of Stone Cold Steve Austin, there’s a reason I don’t teach music theory.


I catch a paper boy , da da
But things don’t really change, da da
I’m standing in the wind, da da
But I never wave bye-bye, da da
But I try, I try...

Bowie, Modern Love (with added heartbeat signatures)


“The song especially suited Lucero’s rootsy Memphis sound, which makes sense considering Bowie wanted to emulate Little Richard on Let’s Dance. Before working on the album, he showed producer Nile Rodgers a photo of the Southern rock icon that he thought captured the spirit of what he wanted Let’s Dance to be: “When he showed me that picture,” Rodgers told Rolling Stone, “I knew that he wanted the record to sound modern and timeless and be rock ’n’ roll-based.”As I learned about all the other iterations of David Bowie as I grew up, the look of the “Let’s Dance” struck me as peculiar, because here was this art-rock icon playing what looked like a concert with the E Street Band. It took me a little while to get it. But Bowie succeeded at what he aspired to: “Modern Love” sounds both modern and timeless. “
Kyle Ryan, In Modern Love, David Bowie mixed the modern with the timeless, AV Club 14 Jan 2016





1. The Laughing Gnome



“I like it. It doesn’t need any ‘ironic’ defences.” Jon Arnold

“Indeed. David Bowie’s The Laughing Gnome is one of life’s greatest pleasures known to man.” Tom Jordan

“It’s worth it for the knowingly crap and brilliantly delivered London School of Ecognomics pun alone.” Jon Arnold

Conversation in 2012.

Just kidding!



1. Ashes to Ashes

As mentioned earlier, what else could it be?


(hey, it's some guy in a clown custom! *innocent face*)




I would say that America forced me into it. Someone asked me in an interview once–I believe it was in ’71–if I were gay. I said, “No, I’m bisexual.” The guy, a writer for one of the English trades, had no idea what the term meant. So I explained it to him. It was all printed–and that’s where it started. It’s so nostalgic now, isn’t it? ‘Seventy-one was a good American year. Sex was still shocking. Everybody wanted to see the freak. But they were so ignorant about what I was doing. There was very little talk of bisexuality or gay power before I came along. Unwittingly, I really brought that whole thing over. I never, ever saw the word gay when I first got over here to America. It took a bit of exposure and a few heavy rumors about me before the gays said, “We disown David Bowie.” And they did. Of course. They knew that I wasn’t what they were fighting for.Nobody understood the European way of dressing and adopting the asexual, androgynous everyman pose. People all went screaming, “He’s got make-up on and he’s wearing stuff that looks like dresses!” I wasn’t the first one, though, to publicize bisexuality.Dean. James Dean did, very subtly and very well. I have some insight on it. Dean was probably very much like me. Elizabeth Taylor told me that once. Dean was calculating. He wasn’t careless. He was not the rebel he portrayed so successfully. He didn’t want to die. But he did believe in the premise of taking yourself to extremes, just to add a deeper cut to one’s personality.”
Bowie, Playboy interview, September 1976



Bowie shows up in The Prestige playing Tesla. He is, by far, the best thing in that film. He is also the antagonist in Labyrinth, a film I saw a lot as a child, as Dad loved it. He appears in Twin Peaks and no doubt fits right in, as himself in Zoolander, and in an episode of Extras where he gets to lambast Ricky Gervais. He was Pontius Pilate in the The Last Tempation of Christ, and the man who fell to Earth in The Man Who Fell to Earth.


Mum’s favourite, from the Sakamoto intro on, however, is Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The story of David Bowie as POW in a Japanese internment camp. It’s a story about power, and forgiveness, and human sexuality, and Bowie is perfect in the role as needed.



“I’ve learned to flow with myself. I honestly don’t know where the real David Jones is. It’s like playing the shell game. Except I’ve got so many shells I’ve forgotten what the pea looks like. I wouldn’t know it if I found it. Being famous helps put off the problems of discovering myself. I mean that. That’s the main reason I’ve always been so keen on being accepted, why I’ve striven so hard to put my brain to artistic use. I want to make a mark. In my early stuff, I made it through on sheer pretension. I consider myself responsible for a whole new school of pretensions–they know who they are. Don’t you, Elton? Just kidding. No, I’m not. See what I mean? That was a thoroughly pretentious statement. True or not, I bet you’ll print that. Show someone something where intellectual analysis or analytical thought has been applied and people will yawn. But something that’s pretentious–that keeps you riveted. It’s also the only thing that shocks anymore. It shocks as much as the Dylan thing did 14 years ago. As much as sex shocked many years ago.”
Bowie, Playboy interview, September 1976



He’d film of Lets Dance in Australia to note the treatment of aboriginal peoples, and he’d call out MTV for its “narrowcasting”. He had all the rock and roll issues, his resurrection in Berlin, the comebacks, the lot. But biography is a matter of fact, anyone can read it up for themselves. This is a matter of aesthetica.



And we haven’t even mentioned Dancing in the Street yet. Or the fact he was the first choice to be Max Zorin in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, which would have turned that film from the least regarded Bond into one of the classics, surely. A cult fission, anyhow. Or his multiple characters and how they shaped music as story – we’re back to the Jamesian again. Or when he became the face of Pepsi adverts, and when asked why, he replied “Because it pays”. Or his Broadway career.


Or how the alt-rock cover version of Heroes ITV used for its coverage of the 2006 World Cup is the single worst thing in the history of the human race.


Perhaps he was always destined to join the 27 club, but we were allowed to have him a bit longer, so he did join it, but after twenty-seven albums. In a few thousand words, it feels like we barely scratched the surface, and a book could be writing just at this level. Imagine what a fan feels like, rather than a humble dilettante.


He also wrote All the Young Dudes for Mott the Hoople.



U.K. hard-rock band Hoople had already passed up "Suffragette City," so they didn’t say no when Bowie offered to let them record "Dudes," the ultimate glam-rock hymn. "I’m thinking, 'He wants to give us that?'" said drummer Dale Griffin. "'He must be crazy!'" Ian Hunter made it anthemic, contrary to the writer’s apocalyptic intent. "[It’s] about the news," Bowie told RS. "It’s no hymn to the youth."
Rolling Stones’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time



See, he could be the rebel that inspired people, be it in gender or sexuality terms, or in their own quiet little revolutions of being themselves, even when the world seemed against that fact. For me, I can’t lie that he was just a fine songwriter, who wrote some fine songs. Nothing wrong with that. He also wrote The Laughing Gnome. And I love him for that. Because it’s really difficult to write stuff as simple and great as Starman, and really easy to write stuff like The Laughing Gnome, especially when you are young and earnest and think that’ll be your big break. The very existence of that song should be inspirational to every artist going: keep persistent, keep practicing, and who knows, one day, long after your early abominations, you might become David fucking Bowie.



As to the old question of Mum v Family, on the matter of “What would the Vatican say?” about that sinful rock music by that bisexual. Well, when Bowie died, one of the first twitter accounts on the scene was...one of the leading Vatican Cardinals. With a prayer of remembrance for David fucking Bowie.


As mum put it that day, “the defence kindly rests its case”.






Two finals points. One, I think Jon's actual favourite Bowie song is Heroes. He'll find the continual references to his love of the Gnome - exaggerated for comedic effect - even funnier than me, however. 



Second, Mum would have written this far better than I ever could. But I tried my best, and perhaps there's something apt about an outsider to the World of Bowie writing in memoriam of the man who wrote about being an outsider on the world.