Thursday, 14 January 2016

just a mortal with potential of a superman

don't believe in yourself 
don't deceive with belief
knowledge comes with death's release

Along with many others I awoke to a news item on Monday morning that took me a few moments to make sense of. The alarm radio comes on at seven but for some reason it isn't exactly seven - the clock isn't quite in step with reality. So what I heard seemed like an article about David Bowie's new album.

The phrase, "this comes as a major loss for music" shook me out of my stupor. Hang on, he's only just released an album on the previous Friday! What's going on?

Bowie's death appears to have had a huge impact publicly which means that his life had a huge impact on many. People from all sorts of different walks of life. The media jumped on anyone and everyone to see what Bowie meant to them. Yesterday on Today the Thought for the Day was about Bowie rather than that other well-known spaceman that seems to have had an impact. The latter one didn't have outrageous dress sense and didn't play guitar either. Probably didn't wear makeup either but most pictures do show him in a Man's frock though. The Archbishop of Canterbury seemed to have got the two of them a bit mixed up. Obviously I couldn't give a flying one about what politicians think about Bowie - certainly not the likes of Cameron or Blair - but what it all comes down to is that everyone seems to have had their David Bowie.

Over recent years during Bowie's absence (and now we know why) I and one or two friends have been bemused by loving parodies of him by the likes of Stella Street and Flight of the Conchords. However, I've never stopped listening to him as quite a few of his albums are on my iPod and, for some reason, tracks from the bootleg Live Santa Monica 1972 regularly play on Shuffle. The point I made above about everyone having their own Bowie is what strikes a chord with me mostly. Because his work has spanned six decades and he seems, by his own admission, to have had ADHD his output was huge. If you didn't like an album, don'y worry another one will be on the way soon.

My David Bowie existed around the time the sixties became the seventies. As a Film Studies teacher I have taught students that the sixties didn't really end until about 1973, which is why The Wicker Man is seen as a sixties film. I had bought Space Oddity* as a single in 1969. Being only thirteen I wasn't totally impressed with the album and, in truth, it was another year or two before I started buying whole albums. I still remember hearing discussions on Radio 1 about his next album, The Man Who Sold The World, but the music seemed aggressive and rather unusual. Although I knew it was exciting, being a shy young lad in an all boy's school I didn't buy it due to the cover most likely. Another year or so down the line I bought the American import as the cover although not as good seemed a better bet. My parents thought I was strange enough without making them think I was turning into Stevenage's answer to the Danish Girl! By then, Bowie had recorded both Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust albums pretty well back-to-back. Appearing on Whistle Test on 8th February 1972 - the day before my 16th birthday - Bowie and the Spiders performed Queen Bitch and Five Years. Notice please, this performance was a full five months before his iconic performance of Starman on TOTP. In truth, the appearance on the latter show was shocking and exciting but for many of us, we had already been prepared for it!

I remember being away on holiday in Poole in Dorset during that summer when the tickets for the Rainbow show were advertised. In those days you either had to queue up for a ticket or phone to book one and send a postal order (!) to cover the cost of the ticket and postage. So there I was standing in a red telephone kiosk outside the caravan site earnestly hoping I would get a ticket for my only ever live Bowie gig. I sent my £1.50 (plus p&p) off and was lucky enough to see the second night of the two Rainbow concerts. Believe it or not, Roxy Music were the support band. As I was in the third row I guess I got very lucky.

The gig was fantastic. The solo opening act, one Lloyd Watson went on to play in a band with Roxy's lead guitarist so maybe it was worth him being there. I was never a big fan of Roxy Music but at least I got to see them with Eno. Bowie had the Spiders backing him with Procol Harum's keyboard player Matthew Fisher as well. The mime artist Lindsey Kemp fluttered around on stage whilst the band played. If you only know him as the landlord in Wicker Man, he also taught Kate Bush to flutter about too.

From the set list of the gig you can see that essentially it was made up of David Bowie, The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy  and a few covers. The short acoustic set of Space Oddity, Andy Warhol (both played playfully by Bowie and Mick Ronson) and the solo My Death were my favourite part of the gig. Bowie's performance of Jacque Brel's My Death** stays with me to this day. It was astonishing and, of course, it is the song and performance I think of now when thinking of him. The depth and power in Bowie's voice was also there occasionally on part of Diamond Dogs - I love Sweet Thing - but it was always controlled. During all the reports and having read several articles this week, very few have mentioned much about what a great singer he could be.

I have been to some amazing concerts in my life but this one still stands the test of time.

Over the following few years Bowie released Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs but gradually my interest started to wane just as the World woke up to his latent fuss. I remember sitting in a crowded room with a group of others, mostly older than me, listening to David Live. We had been to the pub and came back for coffee and other refreshments. It was there in Zouk Delors' room where I realised that I had lost interest. I thought it was a terrible recording and I have never ever listened to it again. I picked up on Diamond Dogs and occasionally over the years I have bought other albums - ...hours is a favourite of Bowie's later years. I bought Bowie at the Beeb in 2000 because it was essentially an alternative version of my David Bowie.

So there we have it. Bowie produced a major part of the soundtrack to my teens. For a few years he could do no wrong. As the World caught up, and this week shows how much of the World caught up over the years, my interests changed and I went looking for pots of gold at the ends of other rainbows.

When I was thinking of writing about Bowie I was going to write about one of his songs. I may do that tomorrow. However, yesterday's Thought for the Day on Radio 4 got me thinking - probably not in the way the speaker expected - about the different Bowies. I haven't talked about personas and characters we all know about those. Maybe your Bowie was one of those characters. My Bowie was an outsider one who seems to have been instrumental in bringing many outsiders in from the cold. He made me feel that being a bit of a loner, feeling a bit different was okay. And please, no matter what is said, David Bowie wasn't really an alien from another planet. Perhaps he was an alien but from this planet.

I guess any of us who care will be thinking about who our personal Bowie was and what he meant to us. It doesn't matter if it was just one single or an album track. Maybe it was Ashes to Ashes. Whatever or more to the point, whoever your personal Bowie was I hope you take some time to listen again to what it was that touched you.

Something kind of hit me today
I looked at you and wondered
If you saw things my way
People will hold us to blame
It hit me today, it hit me today

* The b-side was a far superior version of The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud which appears on the album.
** Sorry, it's not as good a version (and it isn't entirely solo) but you get the idea.


Andy Wright said...

Excellent piece Dave. Well written and very evocative.

Brendini said...

That is a brilliant piece of writing, Dave.

Dave Leeke said...

Thank you both.

Interestingly, despite all our shared adventures, I don't think Bowie really featured that much for us. For me he seemed more a private pleasure in those days. With you, Andy, we shared prog and, Brendan, you and I shared the folkie days (and my songwriting attempts!). Ah well, all great times.

Andy Wright said...

Great times indeed. You are right of course. You did introduce me to Hunky Dory and I'm pretty sure you were with me when I bought the album the Virgin shop in Oxford Street. I later bought 'Ziggy' but that was it as far as Bowie purchases were concerned. Still admired most of what he did in the ensuing years though.

Dave Leeke said...

Ah! Those trips to Virgin were brilliant. I still regularly go to that area which is, unfortunately, being covered over by the Crossrail project and the gentrification of Soho. They're concreting over my past!
Mrs Dave and I were there recently to see The Kinks musical and stayed for the night right next to the Cambridge Theatre where you and I went to see " Jesus Christ Superstar" and not far from The Phoenix where we went to see The Canterbury Tales as revision for our English o' levels. Blimey it was a whole lifetime ago!

Andy Wright said...

Remember both trips very well. Terrifying how quickly time passes (is passing) Carpe Diem I say.