“We all knew something was amiss but this is more than just turning on your phone in the morning or turning on the television and finding out that another celebrity has passed on. I’m standing here, my hands are shaking, I feel as though I’ve lost something, I’ve lost something incredibly important today.” I never thought I’d quote Midge Ure in an article, but he sure nailed it on the head with a four pound hammer on this one.
I didn’t get up to speed on the early news today. I’d a late night in Canary Wharf and as I sat on the DLR train this morning, a giant electronic ticker tape frame coming into the Wharf station flashed the vague message ‘Bowie’s financially Hunky Dory to the end’. No panic. A quick look at social media didn’t get me any further until fellow music lover Damien Gallagher’s Facebook message confirmed it. Well, if you’re going to hear sad news, hear it from a good friend.
2000’s: Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis called Bowie’s 2000 performance of Heroes as the ultimate Glastonbury moment, putting Bowie in the same league as Sinatra and Presley.
Writing only last night in The Irish Times, Tony Clayton Lea’s rave review of Bowie’s 25th studio album, Blackstar, concluded with the ominous words ‘This is David Bowie still following the music he hears in his head; what comes after this is anyone’s guess’. The master of reinvention and surprise caught Clayton Lea and everyone out once again with the sudden departure from the stage. As he sings in his new song, Lazurus ‘ain’t it just like me?‘. It sure was.
I heard the man sing live, but I never met the man, I didn’t know him and yet I am truly gutted at hearing of the death of the ultimate purveyor of one of life’s great thrills – the gift of making great music. Here was a creative, profoundly talented rock icon, chameleon and talisman – rock’s all rounder. For melody, for lyrics, for comprehensive musical ability, for dexterity of sound, for swaggering delivery, for influencing other greats and for being the undisputed king of cool, there is only one David Bowie.
1980s’ curious gem: the last time David Jones and David Bowie shared the screen.
The last few days had me saluting Lemmy, Phil Lynott, my grandfather, James Joyce, John Huston and Donal McCann on Facebook. In amongst those posts were three about David Bowie – little did I know he’d be joining this pantheon of heroes so soon. One concerned some idiot* who had put together a website that let you compare where you were in life compared to where Bowie was at your age. My reaction was ‘As someone who shares the same date of birth as this fella (and Elvis) this week, I don’t feel in the least bit intimidated by his accomplishments. Thrilled, delighted and honoured to be in such august company more like – rock on!’ I’d made a note to myself that I really would have to get away from writing articles honouring dead heroes in 2016. I thought finishing up with my grandfather was a good way to leave it but above him, Johnny Cash, above Elvis Presley** and even Brian Friel, there is the pinnacle of artistic endeavour, David Bowie. I had to write a few words on this sad day.
With these Bowie words here, I think I’m properly done with salutes to the dead (thankfully!). Lemmy had attitude, Philo was one of us, PJ Ward had fortitude, Joyce wrote better than anyone else, but Bowie, ah Bowie really did have it all. As Joyce showed us in that famous short story, the dead in their eternal and gracious silence will always have a mystique, a potency and a hold on our hearts as the memory of their living deeds is savoured and magnified by their absence. That Bowie gave us some of his best work on Friday and was gone by Sunday ensures that the memory of his many living deeds vis-à-vis the pain of the permanent silence is being acutely felt by his many followers. Blackstar now serves as his own eulogy. He didn’t burn out, he didn’t fade away, he simply played one last masterclass in flair and originality; this time with his own death***.
At a lecture on creativity in 2014, ad guru John Hegarty opined to the audience that even the greatest minds had at best ten great years of creativity. While some might say Bowie peaked in the 70’s, he had six colourful decades of creativity – and he wasn’t afraid to branch out into other areas such as acting – see his Tesla in The Prestige, as producer to the seminal Transformer album or helping his Mott the Hoople mates out by donating his tune All the Young Dudes to revive their careers. ‘Lust for Life’? Yep, a present to Iggy. Let’s not forget all of the artists he influenced from Radiohead to Suede. The so-called apogee of British success, the knighthood, was offered and declined in 2003 when he stated: “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.” Take note Jagger.
1970’s: The performance that startled a nation in one fell swoop.
One of my best friends has told me she has been crying this morning with the news. She also has a deep love of music and I wish I was there to give her a hug and turn on some Bowie tunes, get out some wine and dance ’til the serious moonlight is seen and then well into the night. Where theatre, poetry and prose take a fair degree of concentration to assimilate, music – no, let’s be clear, good music, doesn’t just seep into your soul; it dives in and creates a delirium and a sonic connection with the higher self like no other. Throwing on Bowie has never failed to allow a blast of serotonin surge through my system; he was, in musical terms, the gold standard.
This Bowie nerd won’t bore you with the minutiae of Bowie facts, his staggering modus operandi and his stellar output, but just watch the plethora of BBC4 documentaries on him, hoover up the coverage, but most of all throw on the sounds of Bowie and salute the fact that we had him in our lives at all and yes, feel ‘thrilled, delighted and honoured’ that we got to enjoy his talent. Some years ago, Ricky Gervais had sent Bowie a tongue in cheek birthday email saying ‘58, eh? When are you going to get a proper job then?’ Signed Ricky Gervais, 42, Comedian‘. Bowie got back as quick as a flash and said ‘I do have a proper job young man; David Bowie, 58, Rock God.’ Well played – long shall you rock in our hearts and souls.****
2016: ‘And like that *puff*, he’s gone…’
* A tad unfair – the underlying theme of the site is to get off your arse and get shit done. Good point.
** Terry Wogan is another bona fide hero to me, but I thought I’d leave him out for an easier flow. Day in day out surreal ad libbed humour is a real art to this early morning grouch.
*** Blackstar is littered with images of death, skulls and departure, but the refrain of Girl Loves Me with its ‘Where the Fuck did Monday go?‘ sure captures what happened on Monday 11th January 2016 thanks to you DB!
**** Er, dare I say it, but maybe (just maybe) dying on your birthday – Friday 8th January 2016 – would have been better DB; a proper weekend to really tear the ass out of celebrating your music with buckets of booze and whatever you’re having yourself. If you are a day in the week, it is Friday; a wet Monday really was blue blue electric blue with your departure.