Thursday, January 14, 2016

David [Not] Live

I wasn't intending to add to the reams that have been written about Bowie in the past few days, but I suspect I'm not going to be able to move on until I have gathered my thoughts. So here goes.

The first time I knowingly, and with intent, heard a song by David Bowie would have been the Soul Train video of him doing "Golden Years". But I had been aware of Bowie as "Bowie" much longer ago than that, on account of my cousin was a major fan, and so I had come across a number of Bowie records while looking through the records at her house. (My aunt was appalled. Men wearing makeup and dresses?) I also remember a conversation with the sons (a few years older than me) of a sharefarmer who worked with us, this must have been around 1976, regarding my confusion about the recent chart success of "Space Oddity", which I understood to be a much older song. (I had no idea then that something in the charts might not be entirely "new".)

I think that my first Bowie album must have been 1979's "Lodger", which I bought as soon as it came out and for reasons that I no longer recall. This was the Australian pressing, without a gatefold (making the sleeve patently ridiculous as well as cheap) and with a complete lack of sleeve notes. The absence of credits, I suppose, added to its mystery, but I wanted desperately to know who was involved in this fascinating album and had no way of finding out. I was well into my Eno obsession by then, and I could see a few "Eno" writing credits on the label, but "produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti" told me less than I would like to have known. I would probably have fallen under the spell of ""Heroes"" and "Low" much sooner otherwise. (It possibly says something about me that the most exciting thing about the "Bowie Is" exhibition was seeing the actual EMS synth used on "Low". I may have squealed.)

Bowie went quiet after "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" (an album I didn't rate as highly as Marcello has now convinced me I should have, although I did win a copy of the seven-inch of "Ashes To Ashes" at a Blue Light Disco held at the Fish Creek hall), and a year and a half later I went off to University, to new and exciting times. My access to music increased exponentially, and I quickly moved backwards to "Station To Station" and "Young Americans" (as well as ""Heroes"", "Low", and the two Iggy Pop albums produced by Bowie), and developed at least a passing acquaintance with his earlier work. Bowie reappeared in 1983 with "Let's Dance". I hated it. "Let's Dance" seemed to me, who was hungry for new and different sounds, to be the ultimate in selling out. (I am aware that I allowed particular youthful "attitudes" to cloud my vision in relation to certain records; this one, I remain convinced, I was right about, notwithstanding Richard Cook's glowing review in the NME.)

At that point, I crossed Bowie off my list, although I did allow myself to be talked into venturing out to the no-longer-existent VFL Park, Waverley, for the Melbourne leg of the Serious Moonlight tour. What do I remember about that show? How far away the stage was, and consequently how small Bowie looked. How the sound was like listening in a canyon; it was all around you and yet impossible to catch. How the car park was impossible to get out of afterwards. It is quite possible I was only there because of the lure of seeing The Models as support act; although of course by then they had started to turn their own gaze towards the possibilities of megastardom, making them the perfect match for Bowie, but for all the wrong reasons.

I thought then that that was it for Bowie and me.

And then he came back.

And then he was gone.

So, what was it all about? For me, at the end of the day(s), it was all about that incredible four-album run from "Station To Station" to "Lodger" (the latter being the one they always ignore in career run-throughs, but I am not (just) being contrarian when I say it is my favourite Bowie album; it really is), without which I would be nothing.

Try to imagine a world without Bowie. More than once he saw where music could go and dragged it, sometimes shockingly, in that direction. Beyond music, he forced people to question their own prejudices, broaden their own horizons. He watched. He listened. He adapted. There will always be someone. We were fortunate, I think, that that someone, in the late twentieth century, was Bowie.

David Bowie. Magpie and chameleon.