An Evening with David Bowie

I’m still going to bang on about Bowie, even after posting twice about him in two days. That’s one of the side effects of a daily blog-posting schedule; what otherwise would have been saved up into one longer, more reflective post ends up as several.

I may have described myself as an unobsessive fan on Monday, but just as happened after the death of Elliott Smith, this may be what tips me over the edge to full-blown completism. After a day of shock and repeated listens to Blackstar, I’ve been filling the gaps in my listening, those mainly being (like many people) the post-Tin Machine, pre-Heathen 1990s, and (gasp) half of the 1975-1980 era. Why I kept putting off a closer engagement with the Berlin albums I’m still not sure. Why I never got into Scary Monsters, when I spent my early twenties obsessed with the 1978-1982 work of Split Enz, and loved “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion” from the time they were released... well, the only explanation I can muster is that by the late ’80s, when I might have done something about it, Bowie was falling out of fashion, and when my interest was revived by a friend a few years later it was very much in his glam years.

All being addressed now, though. As soon as I can stop listening to “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”.

As well as listening, I’ve been reading. Some more links of note since yesterday: Jemaine Clement on Flight of the Conchords’ love of Bowie. How Susan Sarandon turned Wil Wheaton onto Bowie. Infographic on Bowie’s genre-hopping career (though as one Mefite pointed out, where’s Reeves Gabrels?). And, via Adam Buxton’s Twitter feed, an extraordinary post from a Bowie fan who became more than just a fan—read that one if nothing else.

I’m kicking myself now that we didn’t get to see the David Bowie is exhibition when we were in Melbourne in July; we tried, but the waiting list would have had us hanging around ACMI all day, and we had friends to meet.

Yesterday my son was wondering why people were still talking about Bowie’s death on the morning news, so I tried to explain his significance, and promised to play some of his music for him later. Tonight we sat down to it after dinner, which turned into an hour and a half of going through the hits: the first half of Changesbowie over the lounge-room stereo, then swapping onto YouTube to see what he looked like, with the videos for “Ashes to Ashes” (my son’s first sight of the man), then “Let’s Dance” (for its Australiana), and “Fashion”, and “Life on Mars?” (“is that still David Bowie?”), and the live video of “Absolute Beginners” linked here on Monday, and “I’m Afraid of Americans”, and then “Blackstar”, which he found strange but watched to the end. And then, just because it seemed right, I wound the clock back to 1967 and played him “The Laughing Gnome”. Fifty years of the man, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

He liked some of the songs more than others, but seemed intrigued enough that he’ll be back for more. Much like my life-long relationship to Bowie and his music, really. So why has his affected me—and so many others—more than most celebrity deaths? It’s not just the music, it’s the man: this intelligent, artistically ambitious, talented, funny man; the kind of guy you didn’t just enjoy listening to, but would have liked to know. That, and the truth he made us face so effectively (artistically, intelligently, uncompromisingly) with his last album: that even the fullest life is unbearably short.

I finally updated my 2006 limerick on Bowie with a sequel.

David Bowie is dead, a Blackstar
Up in space. Ziggy’s played his guitar.
Half the world is laid Low
Now that all of us know
Bowie no longer Is, yet we Are.

13 January 2016 · People

Two more reasons it hits hard, even for the less-obsessed fan: for the middle-aged, it’s a reminder of our own parents’ mortality, not to mention our own; and for those of us whose hero worship is of a different baby boomer musician with a more select following, it’s a proxy for the inevitable day when we’ll be feeling everything the true Bowie obsessives are feeling today, but won’t have the world singing along with us in memoriam to our hero’s biggest hits (not least, in my musical hero’s case, because most of them are album-length instrumentals).

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(Adapted from a Mefi comment from Friday.) I’ve been swinging between despair and delight all week. Despair, for obvious reasons, but more fundamentally for the reasons Helena Fitzgerald discusses in that last link. Delight, because of all the new-to-me Bowie I’ve been discovering (I only knew the hit singles and about half the albums—for any other artist, that would be a career’s worth). And delight at the perfect, perfect way Bowie turned his own death into one final great performance.

The Adam Buxton pieces I linked here last year have been cheering me up. Cobbler Bob and the lost lyrics to "Warszawa". I dearly hope that Bowie found a moment in his 2013 web-surfing schedule to listen to the 6Music show they came from.

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Stunning Bowie fact of the day, from producer Ken Scott: “It was only three weeks after recording Hunky Dory that we recorded Ziggy Stardust.”

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Some of Bowie’s collaborators and friends speak to Rolling Stone: Gail Ann Dorsey, Trent Reznor, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, and Bono.

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Inside Bowie’s final years.

Bowie’s cousin on his early years.

What it was like recording Blackstar with Bowie. “I remember us watching this thing…somebody did a series of music videos without the music. Somebody did one of those for the video he did with Mick Jagger for ‘Dancing in the Streets.’ But there’s no music, there’s just footsteps and grunts and burps and stuff like that. He thought that was hilarious and would just have us watch the whole thing.”

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