Tuesday, 19 January 2016
A Titan of Talent - the remarkable David Bowie
The genie of reinvention, he provided the soundtrack to the youth of at least two generations of we fans. Then, just as he had started to reinvent himself as a recluse, along came music downloading sites, enabling today's youth to pick and choose their own childhood soundtracks from a plethora of eras and he rode the crest of yet another wave. Now in death he is set to have one last hit album - his parting gift to the world.
His death has affected me in unexpected ways. An endless stream of his hits have been playing in my head for the last week. I have found myself reading every tribute, playing his music videos, watching YouTube interviews.
I find Bowie an extraordinary example of how some individuals are just BORN to do something. What an accident of birth that he happened to be born at the right time (ie directly following post-war austerity and in time to capture the optimism, space race and 60s obsession with Sci-Fi) in the right place (London), with the right looks (pretty boy but could almost be an androgynous alien), the right talent (multi) and the hunger and single-mindedness to succeed! Not only that but he seemingly knew his destiny from an early age, forming bands and experimenting with music-making from his early teens onwards. His media-savvyness was also in evidence from an early age. A musician friend of similar vintage to David Bowie used to marvel at how in the 1960s, a young 'David Jones' seemed to pop up on every earnest TV documentary interviewing Britain's youth on London street corners about how they were in danger of taking Britain to hell in a handcart with their long hair and liberal views, so young David was cannily planting himself in the public consciousness long before he became a rock legend! He even went so far as to form his own 'Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men Society' for tongue-in-cheek media coverage.
Even David's crooked vulpine teeth and mis-matched eyes served him perfectly in the 'alien' years and well into the 80s, though it's not entirely surprising that he got his teeth straightened when he married a supermodel.
Too many co-incidences to be a co-incidence indeed. The midwife who delivered him apparently remarked; 'This child has been here before', somewhat freaking out his mother.
One of the stand-out moments of my childhood was watching David performing Heroes on Live Aid in 1985 and it's nice to read in interviews that performing live in my living room was one of his life's highlights too!
The surprising thing about his TV interviews was how quietly spoken and polite he was. He wasn't prolific in his interview-giving but when he gave them he was chatty, warm and witty and very definitely still a sarf Londoner, even after living as an alien in New York for some years. The interviewer for their part, always looked as if they were somewhat nervously interviewing the messiah with The Thin White Duke in front of them and there was a palpable sense of the whole studio hanging onto his every word.
While they may yet crawl out of the woodwork, the number of ex-lovers queuing up to dish the dirt has been surprisingly absent, possibly because Bowie had a habit of politely asking them for sex and literally shaking them by the hand and saying 'Thank you' afterwards. Perhaps therefore, they felt less ill-used than the offcasts of other rock stars.
Now I read Bowie was also a business genius having weaned himself off industrial quantities of drugs in the 70s, partly as a result of realising he was being royally ripped off by his then-management, though responsibility for a young son following his divorce doubtless also played a part.
Kicking drugs in itself was a huge achievement. Bowie admitted he was 'lucky be alive after all the crazy sh*t' I did in the 70s' and 'Heroes' was partly a celebration of that.
So we are lucky he didn't accidentally join the '27' club and lived to contribute so much more to rock, fashion and everything else. We are also lucky, that despite a few close shaves with insanity, he managed to tread the tightrope and avoid plunging into the schizophrenic madness that claimed his tragic elder stepbrother Terry.
Apart from his enormous musical legacy Bowie gave we youth permission to go through many Ch-ch-changes before deciding who we really were. He made it normal to try on various 'yous' and find out which suits the best, just as it's normal to experiment with various fashions, and even sexuality and gender. Though for all that and his statement 'I think I've probably done everything it's possible to do' - I suspect he may have eschewed the tattoo!
My favourite Bowie track...? So hard to choose, but I have particular fondness for the lesser played ones such as 'Loving the Alien', 'The Wedding', 'Jump' and 'Lady Grinning Soul'.
PS: And just when you thought he couldn't get any cooler, apparently he was a cat fan!