Last weekend, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. It had been a Bowie-fuelled couple of days. On Friday, while writing my piece about Bowie’s new band, ‘Blackstar’ played non-stop. On Saturday, I enjoyed the entire ‘Heroes’ album with family in the afternoon, and again in the evening, with friends. On Sunday, ‘Blackstar’ cured my epic hangover. On Monday, Bowie was dead. And the world stopped turning.
It all seems like a compressed version of the huge impact Bowie had on the lives of millions of people. He built landmarks in our memory. He was like a globetrotting friend: hard to recognize at every return. Different hair, different costume, different band, different sound. Different.
The launch of his most recent album ‘Blackstar’ was equally different: haircut of an electrocuted person, ‘bicoloured’ eyes blindfolded, electro-jazz people in his ranks and prophetic avant-garde rock on tape. He created a brilliant scenography for his final masterstroke, which would foreshadow his imminent end.
“The last show that we’ll ever do”
Unfortunately, Bowie didn’t just silence one his incarnations this time. In 1973, at the end of a concert in London’s Hammersmith Odeon, he laid Ziggy Stardust to rest, saying: “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.” A stunned audience and legion of journalists thought Bowie was withdrawing from music altogether. But only three months later, he-who-used-to-be-Ziggy launched ‘Pin-Ups’. And the following year saw the release of ‘Diamond Dogs’.
The saddest festival. Ever.
Now that I’m reading Ziggy’s famous last words again, I’m transported back to 2004: I’m wandering around the Rock Werchter festival site. Somewhat lost. Hugely disappointed. Bowie cancelled his set due to severe heart problems. I bought the ticket for one man and one man only. But the saddest bit was that I would never get the chance to see Bowie in action. Ever.
At that time, I took the Bowie train from … station to station. Commuting between the stilish art rock of ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’, colourful early works like ‘Hunky Dory’ and the revolutionary sounds of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy.
Later, I found that every single Bowie was fascinating:
Young Brel Enthusiast (Amsterdam), Novelty Hitmaker (The Laughing Gnome), Spokesman of the Late Space Age (A Space Oddity), Folky Balladeer (‘Space Oddity’), Pop Perfectionist (Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust), Orwellian Messenger (‘Diamond Dogs), …
Philly Soul Man (on slightly underrated album ‘Young Americans’), Pale-Skinned Skinny Sci-Fi Actor (in Nic Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’), Ambient Architect (‘Heroes’ and ‘Low’), …
Visionary Pierrot (Ashes to Ashes), Spontaneous Collaborator (with Queen on Under Pressure), New Romantic Dancer (‘Let’s Dance’), Mid-Eighties Superstar (This Is Not America, with the Pat Metheny Group), Back-to-Basics Bandleader (with Tin Machine), Mourning MC (at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert), …
Icon-turns-Iconoclast (Little Wonder), Self-Mocking Funnyman (in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant sitcom ‘Extras’), Renaissance Rocker (‘The Next Day’), Legendary-yet-Obscure Backing Vocalist (The Reflektor by Arcade Fire), …
Last Sunday, that same Bowie eventually put off his mask and let his superhuman soul slip away. He bookended my birthday with his, and with his sudden decease. In my thoughts, he left a litte piece of paper, on which he wrote: ‘I’m off now, Fabian, and I’m taking your youth with me. Just so you know. Love, David.”