David Bowie 1947- 2016

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.

I first became aware of Bowie in the Seventies though rather like The Beatles he was not considered at the time to be legendary, just another glam pop star. Yet there was something about those songs. `Life on Mars` was one of the first singles I owned, bought second hand (I was still at school) at a fete though why anyone should throw it away I don’t know.

I didn’t care much for `Young Americans` then but love it now) and after that he seemed to keep coming up with one remarkable album after another. It didn’t occur at the time how long his career was lasting. He wasn’t an artist you’d tire of because each time he came back it was like he was someone else. There were always people to talk to about the latest Bowie though they were not always the same people. Different people like different parts of his career whether his pre-fame Sixties material or the `Let’s Dance` era or the classic Ziggy period or `Heathen` etc etc.

By the time the iconic `Ashes to Ashes` came out I was fully engaged so was there to see the remarkable transition from critically acclaimed artist to mainstream pop star. I read interviews where he explained all about the Glass Spider and marvelled at the way he seemed to be made of rubber in the `Time Will Crawl` video.
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. 
After he vanished- and it was some time before we knew he had- I was willing to believe that he had retired to a family life. Why wouldn’t he? In 2012 I posted something on this blog about the speculation as to his disappearance and to accompany it searched and found photos of him every year since he had supposedly vanished in 1996. It remains the highest viewed post on this blog, another little example of how people remained actively interested in Bowie even when he seemed to be doing nothing.
Of all his transformations the 2013 return remains the most amazing reveal of all. From being someone who was one of the first stars to engage with the Internet to disappearing from public view was a feat in itself but dropping a new single unannounced and it having the most bizarre video was just awesome. 
Last Friday I bought `Blackstar` from HMV and commented here how both aspects of that scenario were unlikely to endure though I was primarily thinking that by the time the next album came round there might not be an HMV. I hadn’t considered the prospect of there not being at least one more new Bowie album. That day I watched the `Lazarus` video and noticed, assuming it was nothing more than age, how he was looking older now in close up.
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.
Tony Visconti has confirmed what many now feel, that `Blackstar` was devised as a parting gift, made in the knowledge it would be his final album and what a remarkable work to create in such circumstance. Perhaps that’s why it’s the only album of his career without a picture of himself on the cover.  Maybe that’s why the closing track it titled `I Can’t Give Everything Away` because for all his career we still know mostly facts about David Bowie. What he really thought, how he felt about his life and about the world remains hidden. Even when he did interviews they were chatty but surface lite, about things and movements and ideas rather than feelings. He never did give everything away but instead he gave us art and music of outstanding quality.  Plus he was the coolest pop star of all time. Yes, his music is still here but I’ll miss that surprise of the next one, the new image, the outrageous video, the unexpected career move.
The world is less interesting without him in it.

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