Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Starman has left us

"There's a Starman waiting in the sky, he'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds"

Yes David Bowie, you truly blew our minds. 

I well remember hearing your music for the first time and that was Ziggy Stardust. Sitting in a classmate's bedroom, playing vinyl on whatever equipment a kid of 13 had in 1973-4. Somehow I scraped together money to buy Diamond Dogs when it was released in 1974. And played it on an old "mobile" mono gramophone or, when I got the chance, my parents stereo.

We tried to look like you, we tried to dress (well not the more outrageous styles) like you. I dyed my hair red using henna (Mom was not impressed) and somehow persuaded my parents to buy me plateau boots. Still don't know how I managed that. Apparently I share that experience with Madonna. She has shared her experience of climbing out the window (having been grounded by parents) to go watch her first ever concert, being David Bowie. And "it was not all that easy as I was wearing plateau boots".

To me it was never the bisexual, genderbending part that was interesting. I did not put on any makeup (quite a few of my friends did) but it was the music. And to some extent I guess the "breaking the frame" part. There was a time when I saw photos of officials in London neatly dressed in a costume - only with a skirt instead of trousers. No, I am not making it up. Not kilt but skirt. With a bowler hat. But you made it "cool" to come out with whatever style or sexual orientation and I am reading so many "thanks you saved my life" stories that it is almost unbelievable.

Then came the "plastic soul" era where I was wondering what the heck was going on. Followed by a druginfused "Thin White Duke" 1976 that happened to be the first time you perfomed in Gothenburg and I could see you live. To open a concert with a surrealistic short black and white movie made by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali...

We camped outside the hotel after the concert hoping to catch a glimpse, with no luck. The next day I went to school and my classmate "Flaskan" (The Bottle) who I will forever not forgive skived school and went to the hotel. Strutted in and asked if he could see David Bowie. Which he did. For like an hour in his hotel room. That is another side of Bowie that was well known - he was kind, took time to talk to fans and try and help younger artists. "Flaskan" came out with signed posters, albums and whatnot. I never forgave him for not telling me his plans.

Did I mention that during these years he produced Lou Reed "Transformer" album with the classic "Walk On The Wild Side"? And reviving Mott The Hoople with the song "All the Young Dudes"? And kept visiting Iggy Pop (after producing Raw Power in 1973) who was in a mental institution following heavy drug abuse, later to move to Berlin together with Iggy in 1976 and out of that came the famous "Low", "Heroes" and "Lodger" albums. And for Iggy - well Bowie basically wrote and produced his comeback album "The Idiot" at the same time. 

Phew. And somewhere during all that acting as Thomas Jerome Newton in the movie "The Man Who Fell To Earth" (that was before Berlin), considered a minor classic in science fiction. 

Then came "Scary Monsters" followed by years of relative quiet. Apart from the movie lead song "Cat People" and the collaboration with Queen "Under Pressure" he seemed to focuse on movies and art. And yes, Bowie also painted.

More or less out of the blue came his biggest commercial hit album: Let's Dance. A somewhat superblond and tanned Bowie had suddenly decided to go "pop" and did so. I saw the "Moonlight" tour in Gothenburg, it was simply awesome. The following "Tonight" he later admitted himself he did not get right - simply not used to follow up on a megahit. But "Blue Jean" is still a great song and video. Or "Loving the Alien".

Bowie then decided it was time to be just a band member and became the singer in "Tin Machine". Probably a bit underrated I think he simply had too much persona to be just a singer. He met and married Iman and went on to release "Black Tie White Noise" with what can only be described as a love song to Iman on it.

There was also the soundtrack to "Buddha of Suburbia". And I almost forgot "Absolute Beginners", another soundtrack but where he also acted. 

He then reunited with Brian Eno (the Berlin Trilogy) to release the industry/electronic rock "1.Outside". It was meant to, again, be one of 3 albums but according to some notes and statements Bowie decided that making music about the future was pointless as the future "was already here". It kicked off his co-work with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, touring together and Trent reworking "I'm Afraid of Americans" while Bowie performed "Hurt" (as did later Johnny Cash in one of his final videos).

So having abandoned the trilogy concept he instead made "Earthling", an album he said was "just a bunch of rock guys trying to play jungle". I love it though I don't play it that often.

Suddenly, and now more "as usual changing" he released the rather mellow "Hours". It could not be more different from the 2 albums preceding it.

After a few years of quiet came "Heathen". I remember driving around in Maputo, Mozambique, in a rented car playing it at full blast. To me personally that was a comeback like no other. Pete Townsend of The Who blasting away the guitar in "Slow Burn" is just a total classic. As is the quiet "Everyone says Hi". 

Bowie then released "Reality" that many think was a personal reaction to the Twin Towers attack in New York where he lived. He went on tour and in 2004 suffered a mild heartattack on stage. After that he basically went quiet and only made a few appareances to support "up and coming" bands and some charities. 

I, as most, thought he had chosen to retire and spend his remaining days raising his daughter. And why not? I have not even mentioned his off-Broadway acting career as "The Elephant Man", those other movies where his last was as Nikolas Tesla, when he did the narrator of "Peter and The Wolf" or and so on. Or the Bowienet ISP or being basically the first artist to trade in his future rights. Or predicting that internet would kill off copyright "music will be like water from a tap". Or the "David Bowie IS" exhibition that toured the world based on his outfits and fashion. Or the 2 classic music symphonies written by Philip Glass around the "Low" and "Heroes" albums.

I should perhaps also mention that in 1999, Bowie was made a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music the same year.He declined the royal honour of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000, and turned down a knighthood in 2003. Bowie explained his reluctance, saying: “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.” 

So he was laughing at us or just getting restless, who knows. Roping in his old band and his long time friend and producer Tony Visconti he spent almost 2 years to in all secrecy record "The Next Day" and release it on his 66 birthday. To me the best songs are "Where Are We Now" and "The Stars Are Out Tonight", especially with the brilliant video of him and Tilda Swindon as an ageing couple in "The Stars...". 

He refused to give interviews after that, leaving it to Tony Visconti mainly. One thing was made clear: there would be no more live concerts or tours. He was awarded the "Brits Awards" and sent supermodel Kate Moss to collect the price. He was also appointed "the best dressed man in British history" but, in style, did not appear to pick up the price.

One of those "best of all remixes" collections after that did not really impress me but on it came hints of what was going to come. The, mildly put, experimental "Sue, or in a season of crime" pointed to what whould be his last album.

Instead of tried and trusted he chose to partner with a freeform jazzband someone had told him about. Tony said the whole idea was to get a jazzband to play rock. Well, if the first version "Sue.." was an Ornette Coleman Trio thing he did get them to play something that was perhaps not rock but certainly not jazz either later. 

So shortly before his 69th birthday came the single "Blackstar" with a video so haunting some tinfoilhat thought it predicted Earth about to be hit by an invisible planet in our solar system. Followed by the now really spooky video "Lazarus". Also connected to an off-Broadway play he was involved in about - what else - the Man Who Fell To Earth. In Lazarus (brilliantly made by Johan Renck from Sweden who I guess will suffer forever "will I ever do anything so poignant again" syndrome) video Bowie slips out of a wardrobe to watch himself in a hospitalbed. Then to make a few dancemoves like his 70-style "Alladin Sane (A Lad Insane) shows. Then goes back in and closes the wardrobe. Some days later I woke up to the news of his death.

The opening line of Lazarus:
"Look up here, I'm in Heaven"

Yes David, if there is a Heaven the Starman belongs there