One of the downsides of getting older is seeing your heroes die. As a kid, you get used to reading about the deaths of 1950s crooners and stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, icons from my grandparents’ era, but its not until you’re older that these celebrities mean something to you.
It hasn’t been an awesome week for the arts in Britain: we saw both David Bowie and Alan Rickman pass away. I’ve never been an ardent follower of Rickman’s career (although I thought his 1990 film Truly, Madly, Deeply – a touching, lower key cousin of Ghost – was lovely), but Bowie’s death was knocked me for one. It was less than a year ago that I traced his footsteps through late 70s Berlin, and learned how ‘Heroes’ isn’t just a pseudo-inspirational song used to soundtrack sporting events, but one that was involved in a key moment of social history.
I was born nearly two decades after Space Odyssey was released, but like many his music appears at transitional periods in my life. ‘Changes’ was a mainstay on my iPod during my last few months of university, anxious about my employment prospects and the world beyond the ivory towers of academia; my flatmates and I had an impromptu karaoke session in our grotty student kitchen, inviting the wrath of our neighbours as we sang ‘Jean Genie’ at the top of our lungs.
Later, as I festered in an unrewarding office job, ‘Warszawa’ and ‘Subterraneans’ from Low summed up my quiet despair.
Over the past few days following news of his death, I’ve learned to appreciate Blackstar, Bowie’s swansong. Its a pretty remarkable achievement for someone terminally ill, but I’ll always look back to that period up to 1983’s Let’s Dance as his most exciting, most transformative years.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a stack of my mum’s old Story of Pop magazines from the 70s. These images come from a 1973 issue, just four years into his career. Incredibly, he’d already produced four albums, including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory. Take that Adele.
Amusing by today’s standards, the title of this piece is ‘The Disturbing Bowie’. It begins:
By the time that David Bowie took his final bow from the whole touring scene at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, he had probably become the best-loved and most-hated performer in the rock world. His admirers called him a prophet, a demi-god, a superman; while, in common with many another artist who seemed to be breaking new ground, he had been the subject of frenzied attacks from all directions. His detractors branded him a fraud, a hoaxer, a pretentious charlatan and worse, but Bowie shrugged it all off with the elan of a true star. “There have been some fairly petty things said,” he murmured.
One thing that really struck a chord was the quote from an American music critic, describing Bowie as “the most intellectually brilliant man currently using the medium of the long-playing record”. This was a time when rock music could challenge and entertain; the word ‘intellectual’ and pop music weren’t mutually exclusive, and Bowie has always embodied that.
So thanks for the music David. RIP.