There are losses and there are true losses. As we all age and falter, grew to see those around us get a little older, a little wiser, a little grayer, we find ourselves clinging to the image of our heroes and supposing that we’ll always stay as young as they appear.
In my world, as it would be for many of us, then David Bowie never changed as much as he always changed. Maybe thankfully I’m young enough not to be that old to remember Bowie singing ‘Starman’ on Top Of The Pops with Mick Ronson as his foil, households around the UK were shocked, many of the younger generation at the time were stunned, inspired and engaged. “Who was this? What was he doing? On the TV? Really?” and that was the magic.
Coasting vicariously through other peoples lives as Bowie did with his characters, everyone thought that David Bowie’s appearance at that time blew everything away. His sly confessional that he was gay or at least bisexual was balm to the kids who were afraid of reprisal were they to live with their choices.
His career has been written about at length, rather than repeat that all here, you can revisit it for yourself. Folk to pop to soul to motorik stomp then new wave, commerciality to rock, drum and bass, electronica and then onwards. Prepare for a roller coaster of shifting musicality, difficult to keep up with at the time, Bowie was serpentine and beguiling at best. No-one would dare double guess the next movement. Dumping character after character as he tired of playing one act, the next costume was waiting in the wardrobe to be slipped in to.
Even after his ‘retirement’ in 2004 and the next decade after when we had assumed that he had simply turned away from the world to look after himself he was busily and quietly working away most of the time. Just like his friend, John Lennon, he would have been toying with ideas, buzzing with interest, his PR hushing any reactions to his health, next to no words from David himself baring the odd line and each and every line was pounced upon as we waited for movement – anything – to reassure ourselves that Bowie still loved us.
Once he returned in 2013 with the quietly reminiscing ‘Where Are We Now’ and moved us to believing that David was doing a Dylan, facing his future with a resigned eye, he rocked up instead with a ferociously combative album. Bowie had returned alive again. Rumours of his demise were dismissed from the pen of the man himself.
Last Friday, I took the day off of work, deliberately swopped it with a work mate so I could pop in to my favourite independent record store to pick up my copy of the new Bowie album. I had been told to expect it to be avant garde, weird, wonderful, marking the ground in chalk and that nothing sounded like it. It’s true, there wasn’t much within that sounds like now, there are classic elements of what made Bowie so Bowie-like which really was to expect the unexpected and while the just of the album was based around a frantically whittling landscape of free-jazz and madness, that’s exactly the underpinning that drew me to it, just like the people that Bowie spoke to in the earlier days in his career, the kooks, the outsiders, the sad, the bored, the disenfranchised, although David was no longer making public appearances he was still telling us that we have the power within us to shock, involve, bewilder and raise. Excite and cheer.
Blackstar was to be Bowie’s last album. Released on his 69th birthday, Friday the 8th of January, 2015. His death was announced on Monday morning, the 11th of January.
As cool and as composed in death as he was in life, David’s passing played out perfectly. He would have lived to see the gratitude, the hubris and the excitement of the albums release. Until last night the reviews arrived thick and fast over a new spell binding album. The lyrics as treacle dense as some of his past best, ‘try to unravel these!’ he seems to be saying from his New York base, as on first day purchase we picked them apart, were they about higher forces, about the world in which we live, forces under which we can’t control. Partly true. We all get old. We all do. Except rebel. As he noted 13 years ago, “Rebel Never Gonna Get Old”.
To the Thin White Duke today. Rest In Peace. Your time was made, you made the grade. The last words, and the most repeated, must go to Bowie himself however, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring.”