“Will you stay in our lovers’ story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you”
My head is a jukebox.
It is playing Bowie at random – Kooks to Starman to A New Career in a New Town to Blackstar to Hang on to Yourself to Where are we Now?.
If I am honest, my head had to make up some of the words for Blackstar, they’re not all stored yet.
Walking up the hill to school this morning, I couldn’t understand it. Wouldn’t everyone be talking about Bowie? Was there any other topic of conversation? Apparently there was.
What strange people.
I played another record in my head, though it kept coming back to Kooks.
Was that my first favourite?
I had the advantage of older sisters. This meant there was a copy of Hunky Dory in our house, and a 7” of Sound and Vision (with A New Career in a New Town on the B side).
At 9 years old, I was drawn to sweet sentiment in song, and so I was drawn to Kooks.
By the time I heard Hunky Dory, Bowie had made much more. This was 1978, but sadly one of my sisters had been foolishly sidetracked by The Bay City Rollers.
Before long, we had Lodger playing on a record player whose arm was so heavy you’s think it was designed by fundamentalist mormons determined to destroy the world’s music by boring holes in it.
(Foolishly, when talking Bowie on our Vitriola podcast, I suggested I wasn’t too keen on Lodger. Then I listened to it again, what a dick, it’s great…as you know).
Low on cassette, and Let’s Dance on some weird Malaysian import tape brought in by a boy at school. Tonight bought for my 16th birthday, and somewhere between the ages of 12 and 22, the rest of the back catalogue was filled in. I was doubtful of Black Tie, White Noise, but adored Outside (what! even that is twenty years old).
Knowing the messiah qualities Bowie had for many, the pop Dylan in terms of the magnitude of reverie and worship, I can only see myself as a casual fan, by which I mean I bought every album when it came out from Tonight onwards (including Tin Machine), and picked up all the back catalogue.
But I never styled my hair or clothes in reflection. let’s be honest, I never had the figure for it.
A few years ago, Brian Cox and I were doing a show at Hammersmith Apollo (formerly the Odeon).
We were attempting a live link with CERN. As with so many attempts to showcase the cutting edge of scientific discovery, the live link hissed and jerked and hid. We filled time dicking about.
There was a moment when we looked at each other in the eye, and I thought, “he is thinking what I am thinking”.
Later, I discovered he was. There we were, having fun on that stage, just being foolish, and our minds were saying, “what the hell are you doing? This is sacred ground. This is where Bowie said,
“This show will stay the longest in our memories, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we’ll ever do.”
They screamed and they wept.
Every time I stand on that stage for the soundcheck, I think of Bowie. I think of how ridiculous it all is that I should even be allowed there at all.
I met Bowie once, ever so briefly.
Backstage at a gig in New York.
I knew he’d be there, so took an album to be signed for my sister. I had worried that, having always looked so remarkable, I wondered if there would be some ghastly reveal, that really he was sagging and dusty, like the Bowie in the attic of Catherine Deneuve.
He was as a vivacious as you would imagine, courteous and quick, and then gone. (I hope my sister hasn’t lost that album, plucking about the courage to get that signature caused nerve damage).
There was a habit, there might still be, though I think it is has been publicly shamed, of saying on the death, “oh, that’s a bit of my childhood gone”, but that doesn’t seem true to me at all. If anything, that is a bit of the childhood reinvigorated, flaring brightly again.
The sad news of an artist dying has neurons firing, a deluge of memories, of songs playing, a memory of the excitement and delighted nausea of your teenage idol worship.
When the artist dies, we dust off albums and return to vinyl unplayed for years. Sometimes, we had forgotten our adoration, lost in the humdrum of growing up.
This was not true of Bowie. I was listening to Blackstar last night, then to Station to Station. This morning, Low was going to be played whatever, I’ll just be hearing it a little differently today.
And the sweet sentiment of Kooks was a little sharper as I walked up that hill with my son, hand in hand as always.
Last year, Michael Legge and I stumbled through our favourite Bowie LPs and songs on Vitriola HERE
Josie Long and I interviewed Bowie cover specialist, and occasional astronaut, Chris Hadfield HERE