This week, I am finding it hard to write about anything other than the death of David Bowie. Well, not exactly his actual death, which, of course, I did not witness. Perhaps I should say his life and work, and how he provided some of the soundtrack to so many different people’s lives.
I loved him. Not in a ‘wish he was my boyfriend’ kind of way, but from an early age as a kind of rebellious inspiration. He made generations of hapless teens believe it was OK to be waaaay Out There, dressing flamboyantly and having controversial opinions, whilst not being the most beautiful human being ever to walk the earth.
Yes, I also spent a chunk of my teens years in love with The Doors front man, Jim Morrison, who was god-like to gaze upon and died young, leaving a beautiful memory if not a very beautiful corpse, as the saying goes. Bloated and bearded in a bath wasn’t too pretty. Sorry, Jim.
But he was the kind of musician you fell in love with. Bowie (or should it be David, or Davey? I am sure he wouldn’t have minded being called Dave should you have bumped into him in the street, and it would have been appropriate to do so, in a way you could never call our current PM Dave without sounding like you’re mocking him - which you probably would be, if you were calling him Dave. He’s definitely a David), his surname mispronounced or not, was quite short, had pretty woeful teeth in his early years, and different-coloured eyes. Hardly teen girl bedroom poster fodder.
But he had ‘it’ - charisma, charm and buckets of cheek. A true troubadour, travelling through life picking up influences and different art forms and re-interpreting them for Normals like me. He made it OK for boys to wear make-up. He made shiny leotards look cool. He did heavy duty drugs and came out of the other side, unlike many of his generation. His hair could sometimes be a bit iffy, but that’s what made him human.
I have many memories of hanging out with different folk who liked him at different times in his chameleon-like existence, and what his music meant to them. Like me, they didn’t always love him all the time. He had his ‘off-years’.
He was a Sarf Lahndahn boy made good, but being in New York with Iggy Pop and Andy Warhol didn’t phase him. He fitted right in, producing arguably his best album, Hunky Dory, in the early 70s and then fitted right in again as he lived his own grotesque Cabaret lifestyle in Berlin, haunted by addiction, and came out of the other side to produce even more brilliant albums.
He re-surfaced again in the early 80s and experimented his way through the 90s. Around the time of Let’s Dance, he proved to The New Romantic new kids on the block that he still had it - that he could dress in the pin-tuck slacks, wear the pencil tie and still blow them out of the Top 40 water with essentially a catchy pop tune.
But, like all of us, he had feet of clay and he wasn’t afraid to admit he made mistakes. I think he later regretted making remarks about his fluid sexuality in his youth, and I think he lost his way musically in the 90s.
I remember watching the TV series (which perhaps only I watched) The Buddha of Suburbia in the early 90s, because it sounded interesting and Bowie had written the music. I eagerly rushed out and bought the tape from an actual He Olde Music Shoppe (only those of a certain age will still be with me now) and stuck it in the car player driving home. I almost wept with disappointment and only liked one track on the whole overblown enterprise.
I then learned that he had typed words into a computer, printed them out, cut them up and re-arranged them and made that the lyrics. Or some other craziness like that.
I thought that was just lazy for such a brilliant songwriter. And to me, it sounded like he had done the same with the actual music. I strayed.
But he won me back at Glastonbury. He he had a fantastic twinkle in his mis-matched eyes and swaggered (as much as a small figure can) in his sharp suit, beaming as he rattled deliciously through his truly amazing back catalogue. It was almost as if he was relishing this full-on trip down memory lane, giving himself a wel-deserved musical pat on the back.
And that’s how I will remember him. I saw him occasionally after that, popping up in the occasional photos with his impossibly gracious and tall wife at charity events.
He was living a clean and sober life in Switzerland, enjoying the fresh alpine air and, no doubt, the millionaire lifestyle his hard work and musical nous had earned him. A happy ending.
I can’t help wondering what bittersweet, pithy comment Motorhead’s Lemmy would have made about his own death, happening a few days’ earlier than Bowie’s.
And whatever he might have said, I am sure it would have made Bowie grin.