There will be much better and more knowledgable, and no doubt more in-depth tributes to David Bowie than this one coming out following his death at the age of 69, but the news of his death reminded me both where and with whom, I first properly discovered Bowie’s music.
Music has the ability to trigger memories, some good, some bad, which is probably why I prefer to go asleep listening to speech radio rather than to music, and hearing Bowie’s music and hearing the sad news of his death brought back memories for me as well, some good ones.
It brought back memories of bunking off school at least 35 years ago and finding myself in the middle of the day, sitting in my friends living room in a house off of a shopping street in East London, drinking a beer and listening to my friend rave with enthusiasm about Bowie. My friend had discovered Bowie before me and wanted to share with me what he had found. He played me all the Bowie albums (yes, kids they were on vinyl) that he had been able to get hold of, on his parents hi-fi. What I heard blew me away. I was aware of Bowie before this of course, but at the time I was more into other sorts of music, from Rock and Roll to Classical to New Wave. The concentrated listening session forced me to properly confront an artist who I had not been wildly enthusiastic about in the past, appreciate just how inventive, different and original David Bowie really was.
With each album my friend put on I learned more and became more intreiged. I can’t say I liked or appreciated everything, ‘Low’ for instance I didn’t like at all as an album, but almost everything else opened my eyes to just how different and creative music and lyrics can be. My friend also played me some very early Bowie, and I was struck not only by the musical difference between this and much of his other work but by the quality of the lyrics. Many people dislike early Bowie and call it ‘whimsical’ but I think that it is a strength, not a weakness in my view. Early Bowie lyrics along with a host of other examples of words used well, were one of the things that encouraged me to play with words myself.
Like any other artists body of work, I didn’t like everything. I was indifferent to Tin Machine and some of the more dance orientated stuff, mostly because I was at a time in my life where I disliked dance music, but I could appreciate that he wanted to do different stuff, whether or not I or anyone else liked it.
I think that Bowie will be remembered for the sheer breadth of what he did, for traversing musical styles, creating visuals that became iconic, for acting, painting and so much more. He will of course be remembered primarily for his music and the news programmes in the UK have been playing the usual Bowie greats such as Life On Mars, Space Oddity etc, but I’d like to leave you with something lesser known and are two of my favourite early Bowie tracks, ‘Maid of Bond Street’ and the very odd story-telling type song ‘She’s Got Medals.
RIP David Bowie – he and his work will be missed.
Maid of Bond Street
She’s Got Medals