David Bowie and Me – part 1. A Short History

NOTE: This is a 2 year old post I wrote on a previous blog about why 
Bowie is my idol. It was written as a reaction to the first new 
material in 10 years, 'The Next Day'. That album left me a little 
hollow. It was perfectly ok, but it suffered from pandering to 
nostalgia a little too much for my liking. Not Blackstar. Blackstar 
is amazing. Utterly amazing. So let's reacquaint ourselves.

Originally posted 09/01/14
----

In the months running up to my 16th birthday my best friend asked me what I fancied as a present.

I think of it surprisingly often because it was, in it’s innocuous way, to herald the beginning of my obsessive commitment to understand and embrace Music. It was the start of a path that lead, with its cumbersome, meandering gait, to this very moment. Sitting in my bed. Resolve like an ingot. Future mapped out.

I chose Best of Bowie.

In my youth I was well versed (and sh*t scared) of the film Labyrinth. My sisters and I would sing along with much gusto to our favorite parts and I had the best Ludo impression sorted by the time I turned 12. In fact, the second CD I ever owned (after Queen’s Greatest Hits) was it’s soundtrack. I can still remember being in Woolworths in Tunbridge Wells (long before it was a Topshop) and persuading the attendant parent (my memory’s not that good) to buy it for me. I don’t know what made me do it because that CD scared me big style! I couldn’t get my head around why the versions I heard were different from the ones on TV. Why was Toby’s laughing and gurgling dubbed by a man? Why did Magic dance have a discordant guitar solo sweeping all over the middle? Why wasn’t it what I remembered? I’d made a mistake, clearly. Though never lost, you can safely say that, truth be told, I forgot about it.

I was an awkward 15yr old. I identified with Nu-Metal. My best and I would spend weekends relentlessly listening to Limp Bizkit, 311, RHCP (yes, I know they’re not Nu-metal) and recent discovery, Faith No More until the sun fell. It was on one of these weekends that he asked me what I wanted. For as long as we’d known each other we’d been exchanging CD’s as birthday presents so when I saw an advert for a compilation of songs that I kind of knew, I thought I might as well ask for it. So I did.

Now, neither of us were hair blackened, sweaty metal-heads, we just really enjoyed heavy (if you squinted your ears) music. We were open to anything if it was good. So my birthday passes and I duly receive my first official Bowie CD (Labyrinth was co-credited with Trevor Jones). My friend then unexpectedly informs me that he ‘hopes [I] don’t mind but [he] opened it, had a listen, liked it and copied it onto tape.’ I must be honest, I thought it bad form (sorry) but still, I trusted his judgement so went off and had a listen.

Wow.

Just,      Wow.

Didn’t expect that.

That was it, that was the moment. It sounds utterly trite and stupid to say so but I was hooked. Labyrinth was exhumed and absorbed with clear ears. I know there will be those out there who would have followed and supported him since Hunky Dory, dissecting his every move, nurturing a glacial love for his work through sheer bloody mindedness. I equally know that they may scoff at my late appreciation but I can’t stress how exciting the next few years of my life were to become. The endless, colorful mining of a catalogue. The relentless discovery.

I was drawn to Bowie’s later work, disc 2, Low through to Heathen. I don’t really know how it worked out this way but my best got equally into disc 1, Space Oddity to Station to Station. It was weird. He is a far, far more avid listener than I ever could be and he made me feel rubbish by going out and methodically working his way through the early albums. He even got some of the later ones but, thankfully for me and my musical pride, wasn’t quite as taken with them yet. Belatedly, I followed suit. I can’t remember which album I got first but I think it was Low, either way my collection grew just as rapidly and we began to discuss the man at length. I slowly started to appreciate and adore the early albums and he the latter. I’m fairly sure that those that knew us thought we were a bit obsessive. I know that to this day my best is acknowledged as an utter Bowie nut but, then again, he did for a time have Thin White Duke hair. Best I could do was write a 7000 word dissertation on his 90’s work. Still, the music has ‘soundtrack-ed’ (I hate that phrase) my life ever since. Bowie is more than just an artist to me, he’s the glue that turned a friend into a brother, he’s the mirror that smiled back. Even now, 11 years later, I find nothing better than getting drunk with my bro, playing computer games and debating which album is his finest.

The best thing, the absolute best thing about falling for Bowie and his music has been all the hidden gates that he opened. There are so many, so, so many acts that I’ve fallen for as a direct result of his association. Yes, yes, bands can be brilliant without associating with a star, everyone has to start from somewhere (believe me, I know this very, very well). But I wouldn’t have found Can if Bowie hadn’t been influenced by them in the 70’s. I wouldn’t have followed Eno (a lesser but equally forgiving gatemaster) so intently had he not produced my favorite album. I wouldn’t have plummeted so heavily into the arms of Kashmir if they’d not sung with him. If you love music then you should love seeking new music. A respected artist can serve as a totem while you ping around the exterior, tasting new sounds. I love music. He is my totem.

But he went away. We had found him and he left us. My bro occasionally reminds me that we could have seen his last tour (even today, after the news) but neither of us knows why we didn’t. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was my fault but I can’t be sure. In retrospect it was a bit weird building myself so completely around someone who had stopped producing music. A symptom, I’m sure, of this epic heap of songs we were trawling through. There was nothing we could do so we had numbed ourselves and used the knowledge gained from the experience to increase our enjoyment of music. Bowie became a whet-stone, always with me but used rarely if my taste needed a sharpen. This was my life and I was thankful for it.

At 8 o’clock yesterday morning (it has taken me hours to write this) my sister rings me. I genuinely thought it was my alarm and couldn’t work out what was going on because it wouldn’t stop. I answered.

– Hullo..?
– Harry, I don’t know what they’re saying on twitter but it’s a new Bowie album out or something!
– Really, cool
– So, yeah!
– Dude, it’s 8am.
– .. ok.
– bye.

Well, that’s how I remembered it. I thought it was just going to be a reissue, a couple of extra tracks, I thought nothing of it and made some toast.

I’ve had the best day.

To quote Ally: “This is all too much for me…knew he would never let us down….”

He really hasn’t.

Of course, at the time I was taken by the promotion and hullabaloo.
The Next Day was fine, perfectly fine. But it had flaws and was 
distinctively safe by his previous efforts. Yet there is a part 2
to this tale. You may just have to wait a day or so.
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