David Bowie: Reflections
A Reflection from Miles Simpson
I don’t really have a story to tell about how David Bowie changed the direction of my life, nor any anecdotes about when I met ‘the great man’ or any other truly defining single moments really. Just one of a slow burning appreciation of his, what is without doubt, musical genius.
As my youthful musical tastes developed Bowie was pretty much omnipresent but as a kid who drawn to the sounds of black American music, the constant radio play of tracks like China Girl, the brightly coloured high sheen of his Dancing in the Street collaboration with Mick Jagger, Live Aid and the whole Labyrinth debacle, meant that his music just felt, well, pretty mainstream and not particularly relevant to me.
My parents owned a few Bowie records, seminal ones actually, but I generally hated my parents’ records and again, the glam rock sensibilities of Aladdin Sane didn’t strike a chord with me and my mates on our London council estate. As an act of rebellion, we wanted to paint graffiti on walls rather than glitter on our faces. I was also aware that my cousin, who lived in Hicksville Somerset, was obsessed by him. She definitely thought glitter was pretty edgy and being a London-centric snob even as a young teenager, I certainly didn’t think anything about that was cool.
I just wanted to listen to cutting edge electronic music and modern soul sung by people such Luther Vandross, and I failed to see how this middle aged Top Of Pops fella fit with that at all.
But then as my interest in music grew slightly more obsessive, I started to look at and listen more closely to records, and I got past the barrier of his role in my parents record collection, I began to understand the true depth and breadth of Bowie's canon of work, and how he effortlessly bridged both generations and genres.
The famous, futurism on Space Oddity to the psychedelic trippiness of Memory of a Free Festival, on the earliest of his albums I own, which is firmly footed in the 60s but still looked forward. The wonder of Hunky Dory, a record my mother owned and I pretty much ignored, which contains at least three songs that would have been absolutely defining for almost any other artist: Changes; Oh! You Pretty Things; and Life on Mars?
The experimentalism of Warszawa, which I first heard on the live album Stage, before graduating to Low and discovering further electronic beauty in Subterraneans, which sat alongside the white funk of Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, and the perfect pop instrumentation of Speed of Life, making it a contender for being his greatest album, a subject that has formed the basis of many a hazy discussion at after parties, in smoky kitchens, as the night slowly slipped away.
Then there is Heroes, another song everyone knows but everyone loves. As we watched the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and Danny Boyle worked his way through his love letter to Britain, I remember social media being alive with discussion about what song Team GB would walk out to, then when they did and Heroes played, it seemed so obvious and as perfect as it was at Live Aid almost 30 years earlier.
It’s an album, which along with Low and Station To Station, always featured in those late night discussions about his greatest work. But for me, the record that appeals more than any other is the Blue Eyed soul of Young Americans. A record that ridiculously combines the writing talents of Bowie, Lennon, McCartney, and, my teen favourite, Luther Vandross. Actually Luther was responsible for much of the vocal arrangement on the album too, which was recorded at home of the Sound of Philadelphia, Sigma Sound Studios, using many of the musicians that worked on the disco greats. It’s a record I regularly turn to when feeling flat and it always works, pretty much every track is a winner, with Right and Somebody Up There Likes Me being as good any songs you will ever hear anywhere.
I still don’t really get his glam rock period (and I still don’t like Aladdin Sane) but I guess that’s part of the beauty of his genius. A kid from humble South London beginnings, who appealed to hippies, glam rockers, electronica nerds, soul boys, your aunt looking for something to dance to at a wedding, provincial teenagers crushed by the boredom of small town life in Somerset and aspiring inner London b-boys. Someone who wrote about sun machines in 1969 and black stars in 2015 and managed to make both feel relevant. An artist that carved out his own unique path, reinvented himself, invented someone else completely different, then reinvented himself again and was so other worldly, he probably did convince most of us all that he did indeed come from another planet.
He was a man exuded cool from beginning to end, in both his music and style. Today, the day of his passing, social media is full of amazing pictures of Bowie looking stylish from every era of his life, demonstrating a presence and an aptitude for dramatic pose and poise, that one can only be born with. And dozens and dozens of songs that would have been the absolute pinnacle of almost any other artist’s career.
He is a performer you love, your parents love, your friends love and one day your children will love too. To paraphrase another artist who has been in the news recently, someone truly great has gone.
A Reflection from Ciaran Steward
A man with so many faces that not even David Icke could work out exactly which of them was real, David Bowie is undoubtedly one of the few people in the music world for whom the term 'legend' isn't merely hyperbole.
With an ability to create all kinds of mystical, fantastical characters and yet maintain a rigorous social commentary within his lyrics, Bowie became an international star whose name and face are plastered all over the world.
Everyone has their own favourites and I was struck by listening and watching various tributes this morning that I barely heard the same song twice.
That's because Bowie has such an incredible range of sounds, appearances and so much more that it's not quite as simple as 'you'll remember him for this song.
The man was, and still somewhat remains to be, a true chameleon who was able to dip in and out of stories as if gifted the key to all of literature.
There has never been, nor is there ever likely to be, someone who can be as influential across the board as Bowie – someone that can appeal to those who have a feigning interest in music to those who live and breathe it.
I know how gushy all this has been but this morning really struck a sad chord with me as I remember exactly where and when I got my first Bowie album and the joy I've had from it since.
Hunky Dory is still one of my absolute favourite albums, Life On Mars the obvious one in a million beaut, and I'm hoping that Bowie has simply taken a leaf out of Andy Warhol's book.
David's been walking for a very long time now and he's tired.
He's just gone for a little snooze.
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