My memories of David Bowie and my years as a teen in 1970s Britain cannot be separated from one another; they are stitched tightly together like a tapestry and as I discovered this week have not lost any of their potency.
I actually watched my hands shake when I read the news of his passing and have not been able to write about it till today.
My much older brother (whom I very fondly call ‘Spock’ ) took great enjoyment in regularly skewering my admiration of Bowie at the time although interestingly, this “phase” would continue into my adulthood since this was Not. A. Puppy Luu-uuv). Spock would frequently suggest that if Bowie was really the talent I claimed he was, he would not have to resort to the ‘gimmickry’ of different personas etc.
(Let’s just say that my brother was not entirely comfortable with Bowie’s sparkling, off-the-shoulder body stocking …)
Years later I stopped arguing with my brother or anyone else because if you are asking this kind of question you have either never listened to the music (yes, Spock I am looking at you) or, you just didn’t get it.
In which case, I feel badly for you – but cannot explain it.
To me Bowie was a poet, a self-taught intellectual (and that crisp, almost Royal annunciation wasn’t acquired on the streets of Brixton either) and despite the glittery beginning I absolutely lusted after him. His voice could bring me to my knees (the earnest phrasing, the lingering over a syllable) and I listened over and over, often deep into the night, creating my own anthems, hearing something different each time.
I literally thrilled to read critics’ interpretations of his music; this was the kind of thing myself and usually a few guys I have to say, would discuss for hours, even though we also all knew that Bowie himself had admitted to clipping random phrases out of paper and stringing them together to create a song so all the high literary references could be bogus.
Regardless of this, I wanted to know everything about him that I could and like a cherished bibliography, I made it my business to fill in gaps with any references I was too callow to understand; when the critics in Sounds magazine cited bits of Dante’s influence in ‘Width of a Circle’ for example, I wanted to know why. The song ‘Time’ was supposed to be very influenced by Bowie’s love of Kurt Weill (who knows this at 15? I did!) and The Three Penny Opera-style he favoured which is now well documented. I could write an entire research paper on this one song (‘Time’) which shines on so many different levels, lyrically especially (“flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor” was one of our favs) but it’s still so complex, so stirring. Not even remotely dated.
I also loved to listen to ‘Station to Station’ in a completely darkened room – with headphones, obviously, this is how it was done – in order to appreciate that moment when the sound of the train seems to travel from one ear through the brain to the other ear after a throbbing and prolonged sexual build-up.
I recall driving late at night during the summer, car windows down, the air still hot and sultry, a faint whiff of fast food on the downtown air and listening to ‘When You Rock and Roll with Me,’ following each word right along with him and feeling like I could do anything as I/we belted out together “I would take a foxy kind of stand, while tens of thousands found me in demand.” (0.48 check it …)
I cannot believe he is gone- twistingly sad.