I woke up unusually early this morning. It was 8AM (which I know isn’t actually early, but shut up, I’m a student). My radio turned on, and the first thing I heard was “David Bowie has died today. He was 69”.
I couldn’t go back to sleep after that.
I’ve done the standard thing. I’ve surfed through facebook, posted a tweet with #RIPDavidBowie, I’ve visited the open threads, I’ve re-listened to ‘Blackstar’ and finally caught everything that was staring me in the face for the past two months.
But d’you know what?
Bowie deserves better.
I don’t claim to be an expert on Bowie. I’ve only actually listened to a handful of his albums (I’ve not even listened to Low or Station to Station yet) and his ‘Best Of’ compilation. But still. His work was important to me. His loss means something, especially since he made his last album into a glorious joke at all of our expense. But I didn’t know him. So I’m not going to talk about his death. I’m going to talk about his work, and the moments it mattered in my own life. And apologies if this is incoherent (spoiler: it is).
– I remember digging Scary Monsters out of my parents’ ancient CD drawer, and loading it onto my iPod. I remember going for a run and listening to it for the first time (these may not actually have been the same event, but to me, it’s an album about running in a fundamental sense. Plus I like the image, so). I remember running up a very steep hill near my home town while listening to ‘Up the Hill Backwards’.
– I remember listening to The Best of Bowie [UK Edition] (per the iTunes naming) for the first time. I have long since realised that only a select few of those songs are his actual best.
– I remember being given The Next Day for… oh, it must have been my seventeenth birthday. I remember listening to it, and not really liking it.
– I remember listening to ‘The Laughing Gnome’ in a hospital radio studio, and laughing at the phrase “The London School of Ecognomics”.
– I remember reading Philip Sandifer’s essay on Ziggy Stardust, and thinking ‘I want to write criticism like that’.
– I remember coming back to The Next Day during a particularly brutal essay crisis. It was angry, and harsh, and sad. It was exactly what I needed. Overlong and self-indulgent as it is, it will always have a special place in my heart. And ‘Valentine’s Day’ is a song that, sadly, keeps being relevant.
– I remember going over to the house of a bunch of friends on the night of the 5th of May, 2015, and cooking dinner for two Labour campaigners. I thought I would put on some music to cheer everyone up. I chose The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, because I am an idiot. The first song on that album is ‘Five Years’. You can probably guess what happened next.
– I remember ‘Hang Onto Yourself’ becoming a staple of my essay crisis playlist, along with ‘Safety Dance’, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, and ‘Come On Eileen’. Please don’t judge me too harshly.
– I remember getting weirdly obsessed with ‘Song for Bob Dylan’. I would listen to it on loop for days. I don’t know what came over me.
– I remember going through a bit of a rough patch last year. I won’t go into details, but it was a period of a few weeks where I was often lonely and frequently miserable. During this period, I listened to ‘Sound and Vision’ a lot. It’s about three minutes long, and captures that sense of isolation more perfectly than any poem or song I have yet come across. “Drifting into my solitude…” It is also the pop music equivalent of that thing you’d do at school where you’d write an essay about how you couldn’t think of anything to write. “Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to read, nothing to say…” I listened to it a lot in the groggy early mornings, usually while shaving, clearing away the detritus and getting ready to go out.
– I remember sitting in an office with two of my friends, watching the video for ‘Blackstar’. We all agreed that it was far too long and self-indulgent. But none of us turned it off, either.
– I remember coming across the blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame, and falling in love with a critic all over again.
– I remember livetweeting Blackstar the album. It felt new. It felt natural. The entire album was up, on Bowie’s YouTube channel, for free, the day after it released. More than anyone else in the music industry, Bowie got the internet.
– I remember listening to ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’. I remember thinking it was the perfect album closer. “Seeing more and feeling less/ Saying no but meaning yes/ This is all I ever meant/ That’s the message that I sent”.
– Last night, a friend of mine messaged me having just listened to Hunky Dory for the first time. He told me it felt like a religious experience. I knew exactly what he meant.
We were lucky to have you, David Robert Jones, for as long as we did, and I’m so glad you got to go out like you did. After everything you did, all the strange, inscrutable, contradictory messages you left us, we can be sure of exactly one thing:
It was all worthwhile, after all.