When an artist of some repute passes it’s a standard thing to say that while this is a sad event at least we have their art remaining with us forever. While this is certainly doubly true of David Bowie, what I will really miss is the thrill of new material being released. Of not knowing what strange curveball or diversion he’s up to now. Of being sure that the only certainty is that it will be different to last time. Whatever the critics might have said at the time every Bowie album contains at least something interesting, bold or unusual. Uniquely amongst legends he also managed to retain a freshness and musical questing right till the end releasing the absorbing `Blackstar` just two days before his death. Whoever has signed off with anything as daring as an album like that? Whoever has made such left turns as Ziggy into `Young Americans`, `Scary Monsters` into `Let’s Dance`? The whole geography of his career is full of bold moves- who else would `abandon` his solo career for a group like Tin Machine? Who else would end a near decade’s hiatus with a single like `Where Are We Now`? Who else would kill off their famous alter ego live on stage? The answer is no-one else at all.
Around this time some of his best songs were not on the so-so `Tonight` or over produced `Never Let Me Down` albums. `Absolute Beginners` with its soaring declaration of simple love is one of the loveliest songs I’ve ever heard and has a personal meaning for me too, thinking back to 1986. `Underground` is a rollicking thing and `When the Wind Blows` manages to convey nuclear catastrophe with an undercurrent of menace.
His critical stock may well have been at it lowest but his voice was developing into something grand. Not enough is written about that voice which tends to be overlooked behind the musical and image changes but his ability to hold notes or to interpret or to become different characters was superb.
I finally got to see him live during the post Tin Machine revival. As he neared his 50s Bowie’s music rediscovered that element of questing. The return had started back in 1988 when he appeared with dance troupe La La LA Human steps, then formed Tin Machine and then brought out `Black Tie White Noise`. Reuniting with old foils Bowie never did the expected; though both are produced by Nile Rogers there is a lot of difference between the two.
This was followed by the complex, knotty `1.Outside` which contains some of the most powerful music and dark ideas of his career. This was the tour when I finally saw him live at Wembley Arena as he performed amidst large paint splattered sheets and was every bit the Starman you might expect. My second Bowie gig was surprisingly much smaller in Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre on the `Earthling` tour. That was an album that took some dedication but I loved it. It wasn’t really a drum and bass record, but used that genre as a stepping stone. The concert was excellent encompassing a number of dips into his back catalogue.
Boiwe as a performer was magnetic. Those two concerts sit near the top of the list of live events I’ve been to and his onstage poise was appreciated by many writers. I recall one piece by music journalist Chris Roberts which described in some detail how a cigarette played a key part in the way Bowie presented one song on stage. He continued to fascinate and surprise. Heathen` was a superb album, the title track being one of the most haunting songs in his catalogue.
In the (no) time it takes for a Wikipedia description of a deceased artist to change to past tense, so Bowie’s work is in for another re-assessment and a slew of new conclusions. All interesting but they won’t change the love I and many others have for most of his albums.