“And so the story goes they wore the clothes, They said the things to make it seem improbable, The whale of a lie like they hope it was, And the Goodmen of Tomorrow, Had their feet in the wallow, And their heads of Brawn were nicer shorn ,And how they bought their positions with saccharin and trust, And the world was asleep to our latent fuss.” (David Bowie, The Bewlay Brothers)
THIS morning I woke as usual at 6am and went downstairs to make a routine cup of tea before returning to bed for another personal ritual of checking the news and social media on my smart phone.
But this was not like any other morning.
Like millions of others across the world I was presented with news I never expected to happen: David Bowie was dead.
His son, film director Duncan Jones, confirmed the news and issued a statement on his social media accounts.
“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” it said, asking for privacy for his family.
His son, who directed Bafta-winning film Moon, added: “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”
And like millions of others I was left stunned, heartbroken and gutted. I honestly thought David Bowie was immortal… he had been part of my life for 44 years.
Six hours have now passed since the shock of that news and tributes have been paid to Bowie from every corner of the globe.
He wasn’t just the Man Who Sold the World, he was an Earthling who pulled every one of us into the Quicksand of his thoughts and music.
Bowie, who had been living in New York in recent years, only released his latest album Blackstar on his 69th birthday on Friday. The album, which includes just seven songs, has already been critically acclaimed.
This one song from the album Lazarus, written, recorded and performed as he knew he was dying, is heart wrenching and shows Bowie as the ultimate artist.
Bowie’s long-time friend and producer Tony Visconti wrote on Facebook: “His death was no different from his life – a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift.
“I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us.”
Friend and collaborator Iggy Pop wrote on Twitter: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”
Madonna said she was “devastated” and that Bowie had “changed her life”. She wrote on Twitter: “Talented . Unique. Genius. Game Changer. The Man who Fell to Earth. Your Spirit Lives on Forever!”
Rapper Kanye West said: “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”
Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, who convinced Bowie to star as himself and ridicule Gervais in an episode of 2006 sitcom Extras, simply wrote: “I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”
Midge Ure, who helped organised the Live Aid concert in 1985 – at which Bowie performed – told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “He wasn’t just a brilliant songwriter and an amazing creator, he excelled at everything.
“He gave us the point to run towards, we are all still trying to run towards that, everyone.”
Actor Simon Pegg wrote on Instagram: “If you’re sad today, just remember the world is over 4 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”
Comedian and writer Eddie Izzard said: “Very sad to hear about the death of David Bowie but through his music he will live forever.”
Chris Chappel told the BBC: “I had the amazing experience of being tour manager for David Bowie on his Glass Spider, Sound and Vision and Tin Machine tours.
“He was amongst the most charming, creative and talented musicians I had ever worked for in my 30 years on the road.
“He had a great sense of humour and was great company, never compromising his art – he was an icon.
“I’m rather sad. He touched everyone he met – he was a revolutionary of the heart and mind and never afraid of failure.”
My own love affair with David Bowie started like many of my generation, in the early 1970s with his alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
I was a 16 year-old teenager trying to find my musical muses and heroes. I had been fed a diet of Nat King Cole and big band swing by my parents throughout my childhood before discovering The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and Marc Bolan and T Rex for myself.
I had been turned to David Bowie via his single Starman… wow, wow, wow, what a song!
Early during the summer of 1972, on the back of my first pay packet from first vacation job at a local packing firm, I bought my first proper LP, the now timeless, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
Suddenly I was besotted with Bowie and through my local record store in Lancing ordered his back catalogue of the eponymously titled David Bowie (Space Oddity), The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory… all at £1.99 a time. I was listening to Bowie back to back throughout that summer and autumn. I even managed to acquire a copy of The World of David Bowie – a Decca compilation of his very early London folk work.
My father would often shout: “Turn that bloody music down”… I rebelled, after all the back of the Ziggy Stardust album cover told me to ‘To Be Playe At Maximum Volume’.
But soon I was dying my hair orange, buying USA only releases of Bowie singles – via mail order from a London based company called Cast Iron Records – and knowing every lyric of every Bowie song off by heart.
And so a year passed and at the height of the Ziggy mania I managed to get a ticket to see my idol play live at The Dome in Brighton.
As an impressionable and excited 17-year-old it was my first ‘proper’ gig. The day couldn’t come quick enough and crammed with thousands of other sweaty teenagers I absorbed every song Ziggy sang… with his edgy guitarist Mick Ronson blasting out every lick as if straight from the vinyl record I had at home.
One acoustic song (just Bowie on guitar) was unrecognisable, but completely memorable. I later discovered it to be a cover of Jacques Brel’s My Death. It has remained a favourite of mine ever since. Today, it is especially poignant.
David Bowie’s music (along with that of Bob Dylan) saw me through my university years: Pinups, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, Low and David Live were all immediate and essential purchases on my meagre student grant.
Then, in 1976 I managed to obtain two tickets to see Bowie again at the old Wembley Empire Pool stadium.
Silhouetted by stark white lights on the Wembley the Thin White Duke entranced me and my pal Mike as we entered his new world of electronically nuanced guitar sounds, Gitanes cigarettes and breathless vocals. Only a fan throwing a bouquet of flowers onto the stage broke the hypnosis.
Musically and theatrically it was the best concert performance I have witnessed in my life.
For anyone who has the time or inclination, the whole fantastic gig can be found in audio here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=now5JxUtoms
Only years later did I discover that this was the lowest point in David Bowie’s life. He was surviving on vodka, cocaine and raw sweet peppers amid a bleakness which lasted more than two years. But man, what a creative spirit there was.
Sadly it was the last time I saw Bowie live.
But my passion never dimmed and on the top shelf of my CD rack I have every album he has ever released – plus a few bootlegs of live gigs – and he still and will always be a backdrop to my life and the key to me getting into music.
So, between All The Madmen, Song for Bob Dylan, Boys Keep Swinging and The Stars Are Out Tonight, thank you David for everything.
In his own words: “We have a nice life”. May you rest in peace.
Footnote: A sad and passing thought is of David Bowie’s sidemen and close musicians have also passed on over the past 20 years: Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder, Lou Reed, Luther Vandross, Ralph MacDonald, Sean Mayes and Steve Strange… what a heavenly band. RIP