You’re going to have read a lot of tributes to David Bowie by now. Glowing tributes all of them because he was the sort of daring, one-off artist that we won’t see the like of again. He was coolness personified, whatever he did.
There really isn’t any other innovator ready to step into his shoes, no other visionary Rock God that could touch him, so the throne lies empty.
Everyone’s got their favourite Bowie – whether it’s Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke; the Berlin-dwelling experimenter burnt out by drugs or the slick, happier (and married to Iman), suit-wearing Bowie, who could entrance a stadium in a second with a flick of his mis-matching eyes.
We’ve probably all been struck this week, following his death, by the diverse outpouring of adulation. Everyone from the ‘A’ list to my neighbours have had something to say about his life and legacy. And the huge pile of flowers in Brixton, his birthplace, tell how he affected people who won’t ever find the fame he did. Longtime collaborator, Brian Eno, summed it all up by saying, “David’s death came as a complete surprise, as did nearly everything else about him. I feel a huge gap now.”
Why this sense of loss? Well it’s not surprising really that a man who showed us so many sides to his personality should find devoted connection from fans across so many sectors of society. Bowie was the kind of inspired musician who could shove a new sound down your throat and make you realize that you liked it when you didn’t expect to. He was the kind of creative genius who was so sure of himself, or at least so driven by the need to explore the new that he could transcend most people’s fixed idea of ‘music’. As one of my friends put it this week, “You couldn’t fail to be moved somehow”.
And it wasn’t just about the music for me. It was the unique lyrics too. The way he could tell a far-reaching story in just a three-minute song. After the glam rock years, Bowie famously wrote his lyrics, then cut them up and rearranged them, much like writer William Burroughs did. He thought that the results would, “ignite anything that might be in my imagination”. It gave us the brilliance Diamond Dogs and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).
It’s hard for one piece of writing to encapsulate this man but for me, he was someone who painted a bright lightning flash across not only his face but what could have been a dull suburban childhood, courtesy of his strangeness and the sheer stardust that he seemed to sprinkle over everything he touched.
When you’re young and unsure of what you might want to do in life, to see someone so famous continually change the rules was inspiring. The clear message from this extravagant peacock of a performer, (could be a boy, could be a girl, I wasn’t sure sometimes…) was that it didn’t matter if you changed lanes halfway through, just be yourself. That’s not a bad message for anyone to hear.
I remember waiting breathlessly for his Thursday night appearances on Top of the Pops on the BBC; seeing my mom (who also admitted to being worried about him because he was so thin) dance round the kitchen as she listened to him on the radio; thinking that Let’s Dance was the best thing I’d ever heard and losing a whole weekend to MTV’s Bowie marathon when I was a student in France. At university I absolutely judged potential boyfriends by their love (or not) of Bowie. Because if you got Bowie you see and could appreciate how Young Americans made even the north of England seem slightly glamorous, you were likely to get me…
And then there was Bowie the screen actor………we probably don’t need to pay too much attention to Absolute Beginners and I will never fail to be freaked out every Christmas when he appears in The Snowman but there isn’t a woman of a certain age who doesn’t sigh involuntarily if you mention Labyrinth. Despite the fact that he was wearing a fright wig and cod-piece of monumental proportions, it was probably one of the only times in the movies that an actor played a goblin as ‘sexy’ and it worked…..Only Bowie could have done that.
One thing that all of us who loved his work can be grateful for is that he planned his departure meticulously and was allowed to put the plan into action. This was a real-life killing off of Ziggy Stardust but tragically, he’s not coming back…. Now I’ve listened to it, his final album, Blackstar, is about as perfect an ending as you could wish for.
Thank you David Jones for creating David Bowie, the Golden Years you gave us and R.I.P. both of you.