“I heard the news today oh boy…”
David Bowie, whose latest and final album, ‘Blackstar‘ was released on his birthday last Friday, has died after an 18 month battle with cancer. He was 69.
Anyone who knows me will know what an important part David Bowie has played in my life. I became a fan way back in the 80s – I started with ‘Let’s Dance’ and worked my way back – and fell in love with the crazy cut up lyrics and sheer beauty of his music.
Think of Bowie and you think of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, a man extraordinary in his alien-ness, his strangeness, his beauty. Bowie gave a voice to all the freaks and weirdos – he knew what it was like to be different. He knew what it was like to try and try and try, and he never gave up. Bowie was, “comedian, chameleon, Corinthian and caricature.” He was inspired by the generations before him, and in his turn has provided inspiration to those who have come after him. He was a true artist: not afraid to try new things, to go in new directions, to constantly reinvent himself.
A cursory glance at his career gives the appearance of him having always been successful, but like a lot of true artists his “overnight success” was long and hard fought, with his early attempts to break into the music scene during much of the 1960s frustrated by one thing or another. His first US breakthrough came in 1973 with the re-release of ‘Space Oddity’, which reached number 16. The re-issue of the song by RCA in 1975 (the song first came out in 1969) gave him his first UK number 1. David Bowie took over his own management that same year, choosing instead to use business advisors: I’m not sure if this is a coincidence.
When I went to see the show, ‘David Bowie Is…’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum a couple of years back, I was struck by one of the exhibits, a scrap of paper in Bowie’s handwriting outlining the plans for his first US tour; who he intended to contact, addresses and numbers of venues he wanted to perform at. It fascinated me to see that someone like him took such creative control over his own career – but it didn’t surprise me of course.
I’ve been mentally preparing myself for Bowie’s death ever since his friend and contemporary Lou Reed died back in 2013. As much as I was devastated when Lou died, the thought in the back of my mind was, “what will I be like when…” I didn’t want to finish that sentence. But here it is. The tributes have been pouring in hard and fast, with everyone having their own story of how David Bowie influenced them. This quote from “Whispering” Bob Harris touched me deeply:
“David was an incredible creative force. He was driven, he wanted to make a mark on the world. He was incredibly innovative with his music.” – Bob Harris
I won’t say much more, because words are failing me and the tears are still flowing. I’ve spent the morning with my daughter playing our favourite Bowie album, ‘Hunky Dory’, sobbing into each other’s arms, singing to each other, songs we know by heart. I’ll leave you with this, the lyrics of ‘Eight Line Poem’, written in 1971. Picture Bowie sitting in a rocking chair with his newborn son in his arms, looking at the view from their apartment window:
The tactful cactus by your window
Surveys the prairie of your room
The mobile spins to its collision
Clara puts her head between her paws
They’ve opened shops down West side
Will all the cacti find a home
But the key to the city
Is in the sun that pins the branches to the sky
Life goes on. We are the tactful cactus. We will all find a home. Vale David. You have left a mark on this world, and I for one am the richer for that.