You never know until it happens, how much someone’s death will affect you. You never know till it happens, how much others will be affected. So when BBC Radio Four’s solid morning news show, The Today Program practically suspended normal programming, to cover David Bowie’s death, life and those he influenced, I was simultaneously surprised by the surrealism of the moment, whilst being shocked and absolutely gutted by the news.
I was a life long fan so accepted him, (apart from his dalliance with Tin Machine) and all that he did. But one livid correspondent to the station, disgusted at how much air time had been devoted to the death of David Bowie, described him as, “Just a mere pop singer.”
In my mind that’s tantamount to describing Michael Angelo, artist of the Vatican’s Sistine chapel, as just a mere painter and decorator. As Bob Hoskins said in, The Long Good Friday “Mind my grief.”
States people paid their respects. Celebrating Bowie’s iconic track Space Oddity, “As a real gem.” the Vatican’s Cardinal Ravasi tweeted, “Ground control to Major Tom. Commencing countdown engines on. Check ignition. And may God’s Love be with you.”
As governments chimed in, the German Foreign Office tweeted, “Thank You for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall. Goodbye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes.”
Linking to Bowie on YouTube singing Heroes. NASA’s critics commented that, “They should have included a writer or poet on the moon missions.” They should have sent Bowie. After all, he played The Man Who Fell To Earth so perfectly. Hallo Spaceboy.
I roll into the Ferry Boat Inn where I write and Zowie, the woman behind the bar confesses, that she and her daughter had been in tears all morning. Her daughter because of Labyrinth. And Zowie because of Bowie.
That evening I’m watching all the news footage of his multitude of manifestations, from before Ziggy Stardust to Blackstar’s Lazarus, with eyes brimming thinking, ‘I will not cry. I WILL NOT CRY.’
Then I re-visited the YouTube film of astronaut Chris Hadfield singing Space Oddity, on the International Space Station, orbiting “Planet Earth so blue.” and it was all over. I just sobbed.
Wife Kate and son Zyon were hugging me, because the pain’s like a family member had died. I’m facing the loss of someone who’d punctuated my life. Zyon’s despatched upstairs with instructions, returning with Life On Mars, the single I bought 44 years ago, which I now need to hold.
I remember Bowie on Top of the Pops and would have said, “WTF” or the 1970s equivalent, had I not been ten. Not only did you know he was, this was something different. But that this was… he was… something important. That daring to be different and having the courage to, “Dance to the beat of a different drum.” is valid and vital. Tony Colman of London Electricity, posted lines from his son’s school essay, “He taught us that it’s ok to be different, ok to be new.”
My six-year-old daughter Rosa and the school choir are learning the words to Starman. Later I’m listening to the cinematic grandeur of Five Years with Bowie singing, “The news guy wept when he told us. Earth was really dying.”
The track fades away with drums mimicking the sound of a dying heart. And there’s Heroes, which he wrote after seeing a couple kissing against the cold inhumanity of the Berlin Wall, lyrically adding, “And the guns shot above our heads.” Mine’s a classic version of that tune which Bowie sings in German.
He arrived in Berlin to quit drugs, which is ironic as Berlin was then the European capital of heroin junkies. But unlike his Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes alter ego Major Tom singing, “Time and again I tell myself, I’ll stay clear tonight”, he stayed clear and productive enough to write one of his best albums, Heroes.
Bowie’s Berlin sojourn coincided with an influx of synthesiser toting artists, hell bent on messing with electronic music’s space-time-continuum. Bowie was a creature of music and he became fully involved.
So perhaps it was no surprise that… Well as Fabio tells it… “Grooverider’s gone down the Blue Note to play Metalheadz and trips over some bloke sitting cross legged on the floor. He’s just about to blaze into, “What Da Fuck..!?!” And up springs David Bowie, politely apologising.
I’m over in Dublin last weekend and brother-in-law Galahad describes often seeing Bowie in some tiny sweatbox of a club, just absorbing Fabio & Grooverider’s riddims. Back then drum & bass was new and Bowie embraced it.
But his wasn’t just a faddish interest. Bowie produced drum & bass track Little Wonder back in ’99, which I wasn’t hugely enthusiastic about. But he kept at it. There’s the stonking Dillinja remix of his tune Fun. And Bowie’s last album Blackstar, is resplendent with a fusion of jazz and drum & bass polyrhythms.
He influenced my love and acceptance of things that were different. And stimulated an interest in and love for artistic, squatted Berlin. He opened my ears to embracing the different sounds, which lead to jungle drum & bass, gifted me a love of writing pictures and created decades of totally unforgettable music. Shame he couldn’t teach me to sing. Most of us Bowie fans had an impossible task trying to sing along to his vocally challenging cascades.
But thanks for everything David Bowie. You were one of the most unique artists ever. And I’m Loving The Alien. I’d always expected you to live forever, so still can’t believe you’re gone. But as Tony Colman’s son said, quoting Bowie at the end of that school essay, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”