“ I’m looking for backing for an unauthorized auto-biography that I am writing. Hopefully, this will sell in such huge numbers that I will be able to sue myself for an extraordinary amount of money and finance the film version in which I play everybody” – David Bowie
My relationship with the music of David Bowie began in 1975 with the re-release of Space Odity. I was seven. I’d been vaguely aware of his existence before then, but this was the moment when I said: I like this song, play it again. NOW. What a song.
The next few years gave me other little gems: Golden Years, Sound and Vision, Heroes, Boys keep Swinging. But as the seventies drew to a close I still don’t think I’d actually bought a Bowie record. My brother had a few and I’d listened to his, but I’d not bought anything myself. That changed with Ashes to Ashes (1980). Major Tom was back and he coincided with a big single buying year for me. I’d buy the brilliant Scary Monsters single too.
But it was the move from Trench (Telford) to Glasgow at the end of 1982 and the access to a brilliant second hand record shop (Lost Chord) when my real love affair with Bowie began. It allowed me to pick up the Bowie back catalogue quite cheaply and really start a minor obsession with his music. In particular I took the albums Diamond Dogs and Lodger to my heart. They seemed less loved than say, Ziggy, Hunky, or Heroes. To me they were genius (a view any re-listen merely confirms).
I remember winning a prize at School (Hillhead High School) – this would have been around 1985/6. I’m not totally sure what it was for now, but I got to pick a book to have/buy as a prize and I choose a biography of David Bowie. I think I was supposed to chose something a little more ‘literary’ but this was where my mind was at, at the time. I wanted to read about Bowie. How did he end up with two different colour eyes? Was he really gay? Bi? Alien?
Of course by this stage he’d once again become a mega-star. Let’s Dance and Tonight albums in particular providing a collection of global smash hits.
I remember going to tape fairs and buying bootleg gig tapes – I had Milton Keynes 1983 gig, Cleveland 1978, Melbourne 1978, and one from the 1987 Glass Spider tour too. I no longer have any of them now. The Milton Keynes and Cleveland ones were the two that got played to death though. Both great gigs that even the sound of the people recording them chatting and singing along couldn’t spoil for me at the time.
In 1998 came Tin Machine. Oh how these years have been pilloried. This was Bowie reacting against what he had felt himself becoming in the mid eighties – almost a parody of himself lost in pop megastardom and at risk of becoming little more than a greatest hits package. He admitted he felt unfulfilled by the whole thing. Suddenly it was like he was chasing commercial success rather than just being Bowie and making records regardless of commercial success. It wasn’t that he was making bad records – Never Let me Down, which was the record the Glass Spider Tour supported, has some great stuff on it, but it was still clear he needed to press the reset button.
I loved Tin Machine.
I loved that he’d formed a band, fought to not have his name in the band title, and just seemed to be relaxed and having fun. The first Tin Machine album is a great record. I will repeat that: A GREAT RECORD. I’ve had to defend it many times over the years, but it is worth it. In truth the same cannot be said for either the follow up album or the subsequent live record – I’ll happily concede that those are pretty rubbish. But Bowie himself always said he looked back on the Tin Machine experience with great fondness and that it was the spark to make him be adventurous again. And it did. What followed was: Black Tie, White Noise; 1:Outside; Earthling; Hours; Heathen; Reality; The Next Day; and Blackstar.
This run of albums shows just why news of his death is so sad. If you listen to these albums you discover that unlike many of his contemporaries his forays into different music styles: Industrial, Jazz, Drum and Bass etc never seemed like a calculated attempt to be ‘current’ but more a reflection on his unabashed and genuine love of music. He was a big music fan who regularly sought out and championed new music and artists he liked. He was an enthusiastic music fan. He was, essentially, one of us.
David Bowie released his first album on 1 June 1967. I was born the following year. He has, quite literally, been the soundtrack to my life. He leaves us with almost 50 years of music. But it is more than that. For many artists it is a case of law of diminishing returns and, despite protestations, the case where clearly their best years are long gone and the spark of genius gone. Not so with Bowie. 2013’s The Next Day, and 2016’s Blackstar are not ‘let’s just re-record my old classics and/or roll out a duets album’. These are albums that showed an artist still fresh and full of ideas. These albums can stand proud next to the classics from the 1970s. They’re not just albums you listen to once and never revisit again, they are records to listen to today … And the next day/And the next/And another day.
David Bowie: 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016