12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)

David Bowie never really copied anybody
- Mick Rock

Imagine being sat on the floor by the TV watching Top Of The Pops in 1972 and seeing a man from another planet pointing at you.

David Bowie blog

People my age can do only that - imagine what it was like to see this man on a TV screens in a decade that was, by many accounts pretty glum and moody. This performance was a turning point for so many teenagers in a time when "Rock had got pretty drab looking, with countless denim clad blues-bore and boogie bands, dressed down singer songwriters and country rock outfits and virtuoso players too wrapped up in their endless soloing to bother with stagecraft" (Reynolds, 2012). He spoke to a generation of youngsters who were bored and uninspired with their lives and, just like Little Richard had done for the young Mr Jones years before - brought colour into their living rooms. For me however, being born in the 90s, Bowie was simply someone who was always there for me - I didn't dye my hair orange or wear high platformed shoes to school because of him, I just loved his music. Every album was unique from what came before, every one stuck in my heart and they will always.  

In a Kate Bush documentary that was on BBC4; one of the contributors talks about how difficult he finds it to pinpoint who it was she was influenced by because of how unique she was - only two artists are mentioned: and David Bowie was one of them. Kate Bush was there, on the last night of the Ziggy Stardust Tour in the crowd right at the front with hundreds of other fans - she recently said of him: "he had everything, he was intelligent, imaginative, brave, charismatic, sexy and truly inspirational both visually and musically". It was this influence that spawned a practically immeasurable amount of bands and movements: the New Romantics were attracted to his early androgynous style while the punks, who were meant to be the antithesis of this movement copied his commitment to being an outsider who cared nothing for what was expected.

His music has been in some peoples lives for over 40 years, others for just a few months - but he has always just been there. There are artists that you like, and then there are artists that you don't go a day without listening to or reading about. He wasn't just limited to his most popular decade of course, but Bowie and Roxy Music are the reason I wish I was alive in the 70s. To me they both encapsulate everything that was good about that time in history - but David wasn't just about that era, he was important in every single decade he was with us. Word on a Wing - my favourite song and my favourite vocal performance of his, the song that made me realise how important he really was. Loving The Alien - a song that my media teacher once played to us in class, which gave me the confidence to walk up to him and ask what other music he liked, leading him to one day even lend me a Brian Eno album. Untitled No. 1 - it's beautiful, but I wasn't sure why, I barely understood the lyrics, but that didn't matter. Everyone Says Hi, I always used to think this was about his son, you can hear that he sings this track with a smile on his face, but I wonder why - in reality it's one of his most despondent tracks, especially now. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die - one of many The Next Day tracks that that would get me through those evenings of essay writing in the library at University.

However you discover him it wouldn't be generalisation to say that everyone must love at least one of his albums, with such a diverse body of work to listen to that it's impossible for even his detractors not to have a song they admire. Ignoring that he collaborated with legends (Brian EnoNile Rogers, John Lennon, Freddie MercuryDavid GilmourRobert FrippRick Wakeman, Mick Jagger and more recently Arcade Fire just to name a few) and helped them to make some of their best known work too. Remember Bowie was the man who stopped Mott The Hoople from breaking up and who produced Lou Reed and Iggy Pop's most famous solo album/s. The Lou Reed album in question (1972's Transformer) being one of my favourites of all time.


But obviously Bowie wasn't confined to music, but also films - and in my opinion Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (Oshima, 1983) is his best performance. Staring him (Jack Celliers), Tom Conti (John Lawrence) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (Captain Yonoi), it's about the culture, personality and language clashes that occur between the Japanese and British in a WW2 prisoner of war camp. Conti plays the largely cool-headed English translator, attempting to maintain a sense of order and equanimity between the two sides who are in constant conflict with one another. It's a haunting, unusual watch. The music (composed by Sakamoto) is now world famous, yet seems an odd choice for a picture set in the 1940s, but like everything else here it works, and it sticks in you mind without letting go. When Celliers is talking through the wall of a cell to Lawrence, revealing a secret from his past that he's ashamed of, we finally see this character vulnerable. Up to this point Celliers has been the disruptive, rebellious and confident new arrival to the camp - obsessed over by Captain Yanoi because of his emotional and physical strength. But here he's stripped down and defenceless, and I honestly can't think of another moment in his filmography that has left my quite so moved. There's no flamboyance by him in this picture, there is a chance for him to flex his Lynsay Kemp miming muscles at one point, sure - but you realise that it's a way of Celliers bottling up his inner turmoil, creating a facade so he can stand up to his captors and be a role model to the others in the camp. Cellars is revered, just like the man playing him. Despite being first billed he doesn't have the most screen time of all the actors, yet it's the scenes with him in that you remember the most long after the credits have rolled.

David Bowie tributeAnd then of course - there was Extras, (the clip in question keeps getting removed from Youtube so click here to view it on Facebook) which was an absolutely hilarious. Little Fat Man might not have been the song that fans who had been waiting for new material since 2003's Reality were expecting, nor is it up there with Letter to Hermione or Strangers When We Meet in terms of beauty but not many things are. 

My family got me into alot of the music I like today, which I'm very grateful for. In fact just last Saturday I was standing in the chip shop with my Mum and she was telling me about how she liked "that video he did with Mick Jagger". Either way, this mutual interest was useful in many ways, for example buying my dad The Next Day LP as a gift and then immediately steal the CD that came with it. My sister on the other hand would always get NME magazine and one day all her issues were in a box on the landing, I took it upon myself to look through every one and 'borrow' a poster of him to put on my wardrobe door - where it stayed for years and will continue to.



And even my cat was a bit of a fan


It was obvious that Blackstar was going to be very different to The Next Day. For those of us who didn't have Sky in order to see the full video and song reveal, that night in November largely consisted of clicking the 'refresh' button while sat on Youtube waiting for it to appear - the excitement generated from seeing new work by this peerless artist who had virtually vanished from public view for nearly a decade wasn't all that surprising, and this is testament to the appeal of him. If like me you weren't old enough during Heathen and Reality to see or appreciate him promote and tour the material, he was a mysterious figure and any type of news seemed like something to cherish. This is why people we're so happy when Where Are We Now snuck up on iTunes, the sense of mystery and the lack of promotion on that day in 2013 made him seem even more out of reach and fascinating.


On Friday 8th this year like many people I sat down at my desk at work and listened to this new album, he was already dominating pre-orders on Amazon and iTunes had it as their number one album. I heard to it and immediately knew that it was the type of album that could be listed to, re-listened to and appreciated more as it slowly revealed itself.  Every review that I read (when I should have been working) agreed that it was cryptic and ambiguous, one with lyrics that the fans would try to decipher over and over again as they absorbed the wonderful record. What ever you thought of the lyrics, you could appreciate the session musicians that were playing since alot had been written in the months leading up to the release about how Bowie had found this jazz band playing in a bar in NY. For fans of the Young Americans and Black Tie, White Noise albums you could definitely appreciate the saxophone which was given lots of reign throughout the record, there were many great solo's which again demonstrated Bowie's eye for fantastic collaborators. Dollar Days was my immediate favourite, which given hindsight is one of the most prophetic songs on the album along with Lazarus and I Can't Give Everything Away. Of course now so much has already been written about what this all meant - Tony Visconti said that the album was intended as a farewell to fans, written by a man that made even his death art, who gave the world one last gift. James Ward put it best in his beautiful, beautiful blog post, describing it as a 'magic trick' that transformed over the space of a weekend.

Blackstar felt like the start of something. Not the end of it. 


Waking up the next Monday to a text from my friend giving me the news, it was the most distressing celebrity death that I'd ever experienced. To be holding back tears from 9-5 in work for someone who I didn't even know was something that countless other's were doing that day too. We weren't prepared. No one was prepared for this desperately, unbearably sad news so soon after his birthday & after he gave us Blackstar. It mattered to so many people, of all ages that this man was no longer with us - it was a horrible day, a horrible week and it still hurts for so many reasons. When I was driving to work that morning, I looked at other people in their cars while waiting in the traffic, and I wondered whether they were feeling how I was... and I still do, I walk around and wonder how many people are also hurting. The 'grief police' were out in full force, unable to get their heads round the fact that its possible to be moved by the passing of someone who didn't even know they existed, foolishly proclaiming that social media had somehow invented an insufferable new method for people to express sadness - as if none of this existed before the advent of Twitter. Maybe music doesn't mean much to these people, I don't know. Like most pop culture, music shapes who you are, your tastes are influenced by idols who you look up to and your memories, no matter how dull they seem at the time are linked with the moments when their work entered your life. You start to think about all of these memories... silly, small memories that seem meaningless at the time - but now you know you'll always remember.  I think it's painful too because of a sense of guilt, maybe some of us took him for granted - I know I did, and I'd listen to these glorious songs he gave us most days without thinking a week like this would ever happen. It's hard to describe how this feels, but Pushing Ahead of the Dame sent out a post that morning simply saying "be nice to each other today".

The only comfort that came from that day was the reaction, even if we had our own individual, personal reasons for taking the news so hard, millions of people just got it - they understood how much he meant and everyone seemed to be dealing with the news together. It all felt so personal, yet so many people were putting into words what I couldn't do myself, who were describing exactly how you felt too. But also celebrating the man - just look what happened in Brixton, look at all of those fans who gathered, sang, chatted and hugged each other - singing songs by the Dame who brought them all together. I listened to BBC Radio 6 that morning, sat in work completely numb, but after a while I just had to turn it off - I couldn't bear it. But DJs, professional DJs who had been in their job for years could barely take it either, you could hear it in their voices.
He wasn't quite of this world to begin with. How could this have happened so soon after that gift he gave us. 

In an age where some 'celebrities' are famous for simply existing, where they get the number one trending top spot on Facebook and Twitter for posting a picture of themselves with a new pair of high heels; Bowie became one of the biggest, most idolised music stars on the planet because he worked hard, persevered, dared to be different and never became complacent with his work. When reading Paul Trynka's biography Starman last year, I thought to myself how this man had the determination to keep trying at making a career in music despite how many setbacks there were early on. Many of us would have simply given up but Bowie carried on - and millions upon millions of fans of all ages are thankful that he kept trying.

"It was a magic trick. That last album. He performed a magic trick. He gave us this album, and then just a few days later, he silently transformed it into something entirely different. What was confusing and obscure and frustrating and invincible suddenly becomes direct and honest and open and vulnerable" - James Ward

Not only are people devastated, they're also scared. Scared because there has not been, and will never be anyone like him. No one today can perform a song on TV and match the feeling that those teenagers had whilst watching him sing Starman. There's no other singer who can fill the void, that's why people are worried, that's why it's painful. 

He was an incredible, astonishing artist. His fans didn't know the man and it's his family, friends and collaborators who are the ones truly hurting. But we are allowed to mourn the fact that we'll never hear any new music from him, that we now live in a world bereft of the most remarkable musical mind ever. It feels like there are no words enough to describe these events, and this inadequate and soppy blog certainly isn't justice to him, but if nothing else it is just meant as a thank you. Too young to have appreciated him when he was still touring - but old enough to have been there when The Next Day and Blackstar came out, so I should consider myself incredibly lucky to have been there for that. I am lucky - we all are.


                                       
                                               
"He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry." Tony Visconti

                                      
                                                       



RIP David Robert Jones | 1947 - 2016 | Thank You x

David Bowie Thin White Duke

Comments

  1. Really enjoyed this heartfelt article dedicated to David Bowie Fran, Its really informative as well as very touching

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  2. Beautiful article! Am currently reading a biography of Bowie, and you have captured his appeal so well...everyone who loved his work has a very personal feeling about him.
    Have you ever seen the film Velvet Goldmine? It is loosely based on Bowie's story and captures some of that quicksilver magic.
    -Chris

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind words Chris, and thank you for reading it. It's still quite hard to believe he's no longer with us but it just shows how much his work touched us all.

      I've actually recently watched that film - it has to have one of the best soundtracks with some great covers too.

      - Fran

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