by / January 13th, 2016 /

Editorial: David Bowie – 1947-2016

While still reeling from the absolutely devastating news of David Bowie’s passing, we wondered how we could best celebrate the life of an artist so unmatched by any other that the reverberations of his craft will be felt for the rest of our lives. Instead of making playlists or sharing videos, we thought we’d write down memories, musings and more on the man who gave the world so much vibrancy and joy. While it’s true that our pale blue cosmic bastion has lost one of the greats, the legacy of Bowie will shine on forever.

In no particular order, our writers share their feelings about the man who fell to earth.

Hilary A. White

The funny thing is I have no claim to David Bowie. I wasn’t there. Not when he killed Ziggy Stardust in ‘73. Not to wonder at what his convalescing in Berlin would yield. I was too young or too apathetic to attend his much-mythologised Dublin shows in the Baggot Inn, Olympia or Point. I don’t have platform shoes, and not just because they’re hard to come by in size 16, nor are my vinyl copies of Low or Hunky Dory scuffed from 40 years of nightly rotation.

No, discovering Bowie 20 years ago through bands like Mansun and Suede makes me a relative newcomer in the grand scheme of things. I’d always known what he was and accepted him as part of the general pop backdrop. I once met a man who had a woolly Aladdin Sane tattoo on his bicep and shrugged in disbelief at my cheek after I asked him why. I saw a 50-year-old woman erupt to life like a teenager to ‘Young Americans’ at a funeral wake. Years on, the 15-year-old me tried and failed to perfect the bass-slaps of ‘Ashes To Ashes’ in my bedroom but I can’t pretend that the song was a staple of that Doors-mad period.

How then do I end up years later flying to London to see the David Bowie exhibition in London’s V&A and queuing for hours to get in? Why do I start reading books and buying magazine specials on this musician? Why did I spend one of my eight precious days in New York sitting in the window of a SoHo bar in the hope I might catch a glimpse of him leaving his apartment across the road? Why did my girlfriend make me sit down before she delivered news of his death at 7.30am on Monday morning? And why did I cry into her shoulder moments afterwards and remain fragile for while later?

Bowie came to signify so much to me as my life palette broadened. The filter narrowed and this gangly, chain-smoking creature from London emerged as something crystal-cut, something that was a singularity of soul, daring and art who I gradually pushed out to a very select archipelago of awe. I couldn’t get enough. It felt like the world had had a head start and I tripped over myself to catch up. The mysteries consumed me. The effortless cool was a cryptic crossword and the energy of his reinventions and left-hand turns, from soul to glam right up to drum and bass, were the stuff of theoretical physics. It wasn’t so much “who is Bowie?” as “how is Bowie?”

The sensation remained on loop. There’s he is suddenly collaborating with Trent Reznor. A few years later, it’s Arcade Fire. Then he’s there, casually bringing the planet to standstill with an abrupt “comeback” single called ‘Where Are We Now’, less a question than a taunt. And yet it wasn’t a “comeback” as he was never gone, really. The regular parachute drops were to remind us that hewould always come and go as he pleased, looking and sounding stunning in the winter of his years and making a mockery of the “Greatest Hits Tour” lot.

So, no, I’m not one of those people contacting radio shows with anecdotes about meeting him on the Quays or sharing a fag down Baggot Close. My silver isn’t tarnished by Tin Machine or that reportedly iffy 1987 Slane headliner. I never interviewed him so I can’t say what a really nice, down- to-earth, regular bloke he was (even though I’m sure he was). And I’m OK with all that. More than OK, in fact. The idea that he was genetically different to me and composed of atoms that I cannot comprehend works better for me. It makes him every bit more precious. And eternal.

Stephen D’Arcy

Admittedly, when it came to David Bowie’s music, I was a casual fan. I would dip into his back catalogue from time to time but the theatricality and sheer originality made some of his music (for me) difficult to unfurl. Ironically, it’s these qualities that will ensure Bowie is never forgotten.

It was during college when I was introduced to Low, listening to and deconstructing ‘Warszawa’ that I understood the depth of Bowie’s creative well. Released at the height of the punk movement, Low was the statement of an artist unconcerned with following trends. The release of his newest (and sadly, last) album Blackstar shows us again the strength of his songwriting abilities and also his uncompromising uniqueness.

It feels surreal to write a piece about the life of David Bowie. For me (and I think many others) David Bowie was timeless. It’s hard to believe that The Man Who Fell To Earth is no longer with us. In terms of both music and art, he was an artist the world had never seen before and may never see again. Fearless, inventive and hugely inspirational are but a few words to describe him.

There is no question that the day of his death was a sad day for everyone but Bowie has left a legacy behind him that will continue to inspire generations. Although it may be hard right now, we should celebrate his life, music and art. I for one feel lucky to have shared my time on earth with him and am looking forward to delving deeper in to all that his life’s work has to offer.

Ross Logan

My older brother is completely responsible for any exposure to David Bowie I had as a child and it’s something I am extremely grateful for. Back in the heyday of DVDs, I remember watching the best of Bowie’s music videos regularly. Whether we were giggling at his and Jagger’s moves in ‘Dancing in the Street’ or mesmerised by the abstract ‘China Girl’, each video offered a different side to him. That two disc DVD taught me the true meaning of versatility.

I had always been fascinated with music but what stood out to me about Bowie, was that he could consistently reinvent his image or sound without sacrificing his artistic integrity. From the hard hitting ‘Rebel Rebel’, to ‘Let’s Dance’, to his collaboration with Trent Reznor, he was clearly a man who took influence from everywhere and dispersed it throughout his music accordingly. He was the most unique artist the world has ever seen and has inspired everyone from Marilyn Manson to Kanye West. It may sound cheesy, but his spirt will most definitely live on, both through his own music and the massive impression he has left on all of us.

Phil Udell

Glastonbury 2000. I’ve arrived down in Somerset on a day off and pitched up at the festival site. Not sure if it’s the case now but in those days if you waited till late Sunday afternoon they just opened the gates and you could walk in for the last few hours. It’s a beautiful evening and a wonderful place to be, even if Embrace are a little disappointing on the main stage. To be honest, it’s probably not been the festival’s finest musical hour – Travis headlined yesterday and Reef were third on the bill (REEF!) but there’s something magical still to come. I wouldn’t have classed myself a huge David Bowie fan before – and probably still didn’t afterwards – but, for two hours, I’m hooked. It’s a masterclass in how to do this sort of thing – I mean just look at the set list. My only real Bowie memory, yet one to treasure.

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  • Des T

    So, I know I’ve posted a few things about Bowie since his death (specifically about the 39th anniversary of the release of Low last week), but I’ve mainly been keeping my powder dry, ‘cos I knew all I’d be saying is how great he was (is), and how much I was (am) affected by his passing – which is exactly what everyone else is saying too.

    But now I’ve actually thought of something original to say, or at any rate something individual to me. The thing is, I never really realised how influenced I was by him, until he died, and then I started thinking about how influenced I was by him. More than that, thinking about his music, and ultimately how much I loved it.

    And I think the reason I took this love and influence for granted is that in the popular consciousness, or in my consciousness at least, Bowie lacks the gravitas associated with other singer/songwriters of comparable status, e.g. Dylan, Cohen, Townshend, Lennon, Reed, Cale, Young, Mitchell, Simon, etc. Aside from the fact that he’s slightly younger than those other luminaries, it’s all that dressing up and prancing around and pretending to be someone else, isn’t it, that predisposes us towards taking him less seriously? He was much more of a ‘mere’ ‘pop’ star than the others were (Lennon at the beginning of his career excepted). I mean, unlike them, he’d already been a Mod, and been a hippie, and also unlike them, he was on Top Of The Pops at the height of glam rock, at the same time as Slade and Sweet and Mud and Gary Glitter, and behaving in the same outlandish fashion: how could we know he was going to be any different from those early peers, and have more longevity?

    It was the overt theatricality that made him seem more of a media figure and less of an artist (of course, that distinction has blurred somewhat over the years since, and partly as a result of DB’s own collapsing of the difference). Watching his riveting 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiK7s_0tGsg), I found it very interesting that he said the reason for all the different adopted personae was that he had never felt comfortable being on stage as himself. Furthermore, he said that by the start of the ’80s, he felt all the guises were getting in the way of his writing and performing, and so he decided to just ‘be himself’. (Of course, ‘David Bowie’ is another construct as well.) This, arguably, invites the corollary that his creativity only began to flounder when he stopped acting a part (on stage, not in films).

    But the point I’m working towards trying to make is that Bowie must have realised, early in his career, be it consciously or unconsciously, that doing rock’n’roll in the traditional way would have been inauthentic for him, and so he embraced his own lack of authenticity. This is an idea and modus operandi that can be traced back at least as far as Wilde’s and Yeats’ fin de siecle dandyism: give a man mask and he’ll tell you the truth. We are all acting, some of us realise it and some of us don’t. But, and here’s the rub, over time the inauthentic becomes its own form of authenticity, because it’s authentic for him, and authentically him.

    Maybe we also didn’t take him as seriously, and value him as much, as those others, because of his mischievousness, his playfulness, his sense of humour. Not that those others mentioned weren’t/aren’t possessed of same, but Bowie’s was always more in your face, less subtle, sometimes making you think he didn’t give a shit. How wrong we were.

    Among all the post mortem commentary and obituaries, the adjective that keeps cropping up the most to describe and encapsulate him is his ‘fearlessness’. But I would add another: his generosity. Nowhere was this more apparent and exemplified than in his discoveries. Like Björk, when Bowie collaborated with someone it was almost always to bring someone from relative obscurity to wider public attention – unlike Madonna, for example, who only works with someone who is already hip or happening, thus latching on to the latest craze, the freshest talent, after the fact. Of course, it benefitted him too, but he knew where to look, and used his high media profile to further the careers of others. The list is endless: Mick Ronson, Eno, Fripp, Nile Rodgers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Donny McCaslin. It took a great deal of prescient perspicacity to know how good the first Velvet Underground album was in 1967, to realise that Lou Reed was, to quote from the stage of the Hammersmith Odeon in 1972, ‘one of the best songwriters around’, and to produce Transformer; or to know there was something very special going on with the Stooges’ first two albums, and to mix Raw Power, set up a management deal and recoding contract for Iggy and The Stooges, to say nothing of going on to co-write and co-produce Iggy’s The Idiot and Lust For Life, and even tour for a while in Iggy’s backing band as a keyboard player. All when Lou and Iggy were being ignored or dismissed or derided by the industry and the general public. Indeed, my favourite epitaph that I’ve read so far was that from Iggy Pop: ‘His friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best of what we can be.’

    A gentleman. A scholar. A writer. A total performer. An incisive social commentator. But all done with the lightest of touches. He even made fear and isolation and alienation seem like they might be fun, or not as bad as you thought, or much worse than you thought – but with the hope of the possibility that you might survive them because, after all, he knew all about them, and he had. Genius. Yes, because it takes a particular kind of genius to be serious but not take yourself too seriously, to be serious but not be taken too seriously. That’s when the fun begins. And it’s only just beginning. The hard work of taking him seriously, I mean. What fun it’s going to be. Watch that man.

    http://desmondtraynor.blogspot.ie/2016/01/david-bowie-rip.html

  • Des T

    Low: released on January 14th, 1977, 39 (!) years ago, two days shy of my 16th birthday. Nothing had prepared us for this, not ‘Changes’, not ‘Ziggy Stardust’, not ‘Rebel Rebel’, not even ‘Station to Station’. (Of course, if we’d been hip enough to have discovered Can, Neu or Kraftwerk at that point, we might have had an inkling, but I wasn’t.) Last track ‘Subterraneans’ was the lushest, scariest (at the same time) thing I’d ever heard. I thought the whole album extraordinary then, and I think it’s extraordinary now. As the poster ads of the time read (sighted on first trip to London!, as well as in the NME): ‘There’s old wave, there’s new wave, and there’s David Bowie.’ For once, the ad men got it bang on. Listen. Enjoy. Marvel.