A Tribute To A Starman
I first met David Bowie in my parents’ living room in 1972, then again a few weeks later in the school playground, and he’s been following me round ever since. I didn’t actually meet him of course, he was on the TV, but that now famous Top of the Pops performance of ‘Starman’, where he casually draped his spangly arm around Mick Ronson, is as vivid to me now as it was then. My playground encounter came when my best friend Malcolm took down the hood of his parka on a Monday morning to reveal his newly-acquired Bowie haircut, the like of which I’d never seen so close up. I was spell-bound by both these events, and the influence that Bowie had on me, and the world around me, never went away. My first girlfriend stared longingly at the sleeve of her Aladdin Sane LP. My friend Phil had a part-time job and could afford to buy his albums, which he let me tape. I played tennis-racket guitar to every track on Ziggy Stardust.
I consider myself fortunate to have been a teenager in the seventies, growing up in what was Bowie’s most remarkably creative period, and one in which he changed the way we saw pop stars. And we did all see it. All of us. Top Of The Pops was the cultural touchstone that not only brought you and your friends together the next day, but more than likely would be watched in the same room as your disapproving parents and maybe your even more horrified granny. Everything about him inspired the generation growing up alongside him. The impact of albums like Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust is difficult to appreciate now. At first glance he just ‘made music’, but he also turned out to be a fashion icon, artist, actor, designer, video pioneer and media innovator. And of course there’s the much talked about ‘constant re-invention’ of his music. For me, that was the main thing – his music. When he made a dance album with Nile Rogers, it didn’t sound like other dance albums; it was Bowie’s dance album. When he made a Philadelphia-soul album with Luther Vandross it still sounded like a Bowie album, just different from any other Bowie album you’d ever heard.
Whatever else I’ve listened to over the years, part of my musical world has always had a corner reserved for some of Bowie’s music, and in this streaming age, lost singles and worn-out cassette tapes have been replaced by renewed chances to listen to his songs, both old and new.
I recently visited Berlin for the first time, where Bowie made the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger in the eighties, and I was able to lose myself (on my headphones) in the music from that era. Listening at the same time to the single ‘Where Are We Now?’, with its melancholic reflections on his time there, I felt somehow that his life and music all seemed to have come full circle. It’s not surprising that his death resonated around the world as it has. At one time it seemed he was going to fade into living the life of a Manhattan recluse, but then he wrong-footed us all in 2013 with his album The Next Day, and now Blackstar, released on his final birthday, which turned out to be almost the last day of his life. He remained unpredictable until the very end, and while there will always be more music, there will never be another David Bowie.