David Bowie is dead.
Both my heart and mind are struggling with this fact. How can he be dead when I have a new album to listen to? How can he be dead when all I see online this week are posts that link to his many powerful performances? How can he be dead when he’s been an important part of my life for nearly forty three years?
I never met him and only saw him perform live once, but, like many other people throughout the world, as this week has proved, David Bowie is a dear friend who had no knowledge of my personal existence. A friend who spoke to me intimately with every song he wrote.
In 1973, my parents bought a record player for the first time ever. I was fifteen and had hardly given music any thought. I was aware of the stuff they played on the radio, but just as background, and knew that friends talked about music without connecting to anything they said. Until this point I’d been more interested in the Apollo Moon landings and reading science fiction.
With a record player in the house, here was a new toy to play with. But what should I buy?
Initially, I think I only chose Life on Mars? because of the title’s science fiction implications, only realising later it was about something very different, yet the music and lyrics drew me in and my love of Bowie began.
At first it was a slow burning relationship. The next two singles I bought were Stuck in the Middle by Stealers Wheel and Frankenstein by The Edgar Winter Group, which was the start of my eclectic taste in music.
Then a few weeks later, while on a family holiday, I spotted the Space Oddity album and bought it immediately, even though I couldn’t play it until we all returned home. Again, the implication of science fiction teased me, along with an interest in hearing more by this man. This was a time, of course, before the internet and the only way to hear music you wanted was by luck on the radio, by owning the records or by having friends who owned them.
However, being shy back then, I didn’t have many friends and none of them had any Bowie records. But curiously, I found myself making more friends in the coming months through a mutual interest in Bowie’s music. I think it’s fair to say that in this respect alone, he had a life-changing impact on my life.
More albums were added to my collection – The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane; all brilliant, all so different from each other. His almost eclectic approach to music seemed completely fitting.
My love of his music was both fulfilling and left me yearning for more (even now, this is true) to the point where, when Diamond Dogs was released, I got to the record shop just as they were opening the delivery and my copy was the first out of the box. I was the first of my friends to buy it. I think I played it virtually non-stop for months and it still remains one of my favourite albums.
Plenty of people claimed to hate Bowie at that time and I was laughed at for wearing T-shirts with his image on or for having my hair cut in the Ziggy/Aladdin style (though sadly not dyed orange), yet I enjoyed the fact that these people didn’t like the same music as me. And in spite of my shyness I had a way to be a tiny bit extrovert – I could be a little bit Ziggy.
My musical tastes developed and broadened – Pink Floyd, Queen, Alex Harvey, for example – but Bowie kept delivering the goods with more variety. Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters were all excellent in their own ways. New lyrical styles and a number of instrumental pieces saw him develop as a songwriter and a musician.
In spite of this, and although he wrote a number of great songs, Bowie didn’t put together an album that felt like an album (as opposed to a collection of songs) until Outside came along in 1995 and suddenly the old magic was revived again. An album to compare with the likes of Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs in its conceptual themes.
It felt like my friend had come home to me and the cooling of my love for his music and lyrics had never really left at all. It still burned like a beacon.
It’s now over twenty years since Outside was released and we’ve had a number of other excellent albums since then. I’ve been dabbling with musical compositions during this time and I’ve become a professional writer, neither of which would likely have been possible without the ongoing influence of a man who came from humble beginnings yet had such powerful visions that he shone like the star that he is and always will be.
I’ve only listened to the new album a few times since it was released, but already I find that the title track, Blackstar, is lodged in my mind. And I love that a Bowie track still has the power to do this. It is a very fine last album.
David Bowie is dead.
I am sad but still so in love with his music. When I see the wonderful outpourings of love on the internet this week, I realise I have millions of friends who I will likely never get to know or even meet, but our mutual interest in the music of Bowie will always bind a little part of us.
In some ways I’m still the shy teenager who bought Life on Mars? but I’m also much more than that. And today I’m also feeling a little bit Ziggy.
Thank you, David.