When I read on the internet that David Bowie had just died, well, the first place I saw it mentioned was, of all places, the comment section on You Tube, where his new video for “★” had been posted. It had been up there for a few days, so there were already comments. Then, on Sunday, it was late, about midnight or after, and I was jumping around, checking stuff out, which is not unusual, when, for one reason or another, I was returned to the “★” post again because of a previous comment I had written. Being a member – or signed up to it, or what-have-you, to Google Plus or “G+”, when one writes a comment, gets in on a “thread” on something on You Tube or some Google-affiliated site and someone replies to what you’ve written, you get notified, e.g., up in the right-hand corner, there’s an icon of a bell, and when you have waiting messages, there will be a number. It could be 1 or it could be, well, I suppose, 20 or more, depending on how long it’s been since you’ve gone through them. It’s a shame because 90% of the messages one gets on this platform are just plain garbage: whiny trash from trolls. Now and then one gets an intelligent reply to something you wrote or even a reply to someone else’s comment from a thread which you happen to be a part of. So, the point is, there was a reply to some comment I wrote about Bowie in reference to this new release (★). I don’t even remember what the comment was or what the reply was. Whatever it was, I read it, then wrote a reply, which eventually brought me back to the original thread at the “Blackstar” post and, seeing some new comments posted, I scanned some of them, then I read one – a rather short one which just read, something like “He just died”. Not a long post, just a concise, brief statement. But, you know, when I saw that first comment, I didn’t take it as meaning Bowie, the man, had actually, you know, died. I thought, maybe, the person was either being sarcastic and just writing that or possibly it was some sort of commentary on his new music. But then I saw another similar comment, then another one and after I saw one more, my blood started to run cold. “Wait a minute”, I thought to myself, “Is this for real?” So, I went to my Yahoo home page and, not necessarily expecting to see any news right on the front Yahoo page, the first thing I did was to type in the search box “David Bowie Dead” or something like that and up came a plethora of responses to the search query and my worst fear (at that moment) was realized: Bowie had just died! For a minute or so I was just frozen. I didn’t know what to do. I’m not really an “emotional” person. For instance, I rarely ever cry. My girlfriend says I don’t “feel”, but, to be fair, she only does that when she’s mad at me and wants me to show some sort of emotion. So I don’t cry, the way some do. In fact, there are lots of people who express their grief or sorrow, etc. in different ways. I happen to be Norwegian and a typical trait is stoicism, which is to say, not the type to show emotion, be it overwhelming joy, ecstasy or conversely, sadness, extreme anxiety, even panic, but there are always exceptions for all those- I laugh, I smile, I can articulate the way I feel about a particular thing. I’m not a friggin’ automaton. I just don’t show outward signs of sadness or the opposite. But I do feel those emotions on the inside. Hence, that moment after I verified the news of the loss of Bowie and was frozen. I mean, I was up at my PC, my girlfriend was asleep already, so I had no one to respond to if she said anything anyway. But I just sat there, wide-eyed and just went numb, more so mentally, than physically, but I was sitting, so I don’t know, like, would I have fainted or lost my balance had I been standing?
Anyway, it was like being punched in the stomach, but without the pain of getting socked hard in the gut – you sit there, absorbing the punch. In this case, it was mental “punch in the gut”.
What made Bowie’s death, which was tragic beyond belief, actually somewhat bizarre, was that, not unlike when John Lennon (another superstar, in the truest sense, not some modern-day unoriginal pop-star who is famous but doesn’t really deserve the accolades) was gunned down just outside his apartment building in Manhattan, December 8, 1980, there was a new album just finished – in Bowie’s case, he had just released it, two (well, it was actually, officially Monday, since I read this after midnight, after Sunday night, so technically, three) days earlier and, on his 69th birthday, no less. In Lennon’s case, what was very tragic besides his unexpected, totally senseless death, a complete waste committed by a mentally deranged loser – a loser in every sense of the word. I really and truly wish, when he was serving his sentence at Attica that some inmate- say, a murderer serving multiple life sentences with nothing to lose – had stabbed him, over and over again, until he had no chance of being revived. That would never have brought Lennon back, but it would’ve at least given some people the sense that justice had been done. OK, so, a forgiving soul I’m not.
I digress…I was only putting out the comparison that both singer/songwriters, residents of New York, among other places, had brand new albums when they died. Bowie, at least, was lucky enough to see his new album, ★ [Blackstar] be released. In John Lennon’s case, the album he had just finished, which was also special because, in 1980, he and Yoko Ono, who had had some turbulence in their marriage: in the mid-70s, when John was using a lot, drinking, etc. he started to be, well, let’s just say, not the most perfect husband (or father, to his then, young son, Sean), so they separated for a while. These were the so-called “lost years”, when Lennon went West, to Los Angeles, living it up, partying with a wide range of artists, etc. This was around the time when David Bowie recorded Young Americans and who do you think came together at this juncture? The two legends I’m writing about! The last song on Young Americans, “Fame” was written by both David Bowie and John Lennon and you can hear Lennon’s distinctive voice on it as well as you can hear Bowie’s distinctive voice singing background vocals during the ending bridge of Lou Reed’s classic, “Satellite of Love”, from the album Bowie worked on with Lou (credited as Producer; he also plays the sax solo at the end of “Walk on the Wild Side”; but that’s another story). “Fame”, the song itself, is a great song. It’s a jaded, but not untrue, song about how fame is, at best, a double-edged sword. It has been a way for people of real talent, with artistic vision, whether in literature, poetry, music, painting, sculpture or even those involved in theater and/or cinema. In short: men and women with a pure, unvarnished, unyielding vision. Idiosyncratic archetypes who set the scene which is then stylized, improved upon, in the best of cases, sometimes challenged, other times merely adequately followed, as in footsteps and after this paradigm has about worn out its usefulness, you’ll see it become a part of advertising, cheap, pret-a-porter chain store commerciality, et cetera. Of course, I could go on and on about missteps and/or mistakes Bowie made, say, during the 80s and maybe a couple in the 90s, but, hey, when you’ve been doing things, almost always staying a couple steps ahead of the pack since at least 1969 (when David Bowie, his eponymous debut came out), and you’ve managed to produce a library of peerless work up through 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) – meaning, from Space Oddity to Ziggy, through the Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes, Lodger), with Brian Eno as well as help bring another good friend, Iggy Pop, back from the dead, so to speak, after the implosion of The Stooges – Bowie produced and co-wrote two of Iggy’s works that remain among his best and catapulted him into a new “self” (his debut solo album, The Idiot, and Lust for Life) you can be forgiven a few mediocre, at best, albums in the mid-80s. The man had given his life for art and sublime music all through the 70s. Not just his own, but for others, as well – there’s the aforementioned Transformer he “produced” with Lou Reed, there’s the song-you-can’t-get-out-of-your-head he wrote for Mott the Hoople: the title track to the great All the Young Dudes album and, not least, the friendship he had for Iggy Pop that included a trust and a belief in his, obviously, manifest talents, which shone brightly on those two solo albums of his (Lust for Life even contained a song, “China Girl”, which Bowie liked so much, he used it on Let’s Dance– I’m not even going to say which version I like better; that really isn’t that relevant: I’m not reviewing his music). I will say this, though, about ★, the title track is simply sublime. But just to make sure it wasn’t a one-off shot of greatness, there’s “Lazarus”, the name of an Off-Broadway play he’d written and recently staged in New York. “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore”, “Sue (or in a Season of Crime)” and “Girl Loves Me” are some examples of the fact that, indeed, this album is, in my opinion, undoubtedly, the best thing he’s done – and I’m loath to say this, but, to be honest, I’d have to say since Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), even though Scary Monsters is – well, dammit, there’s the rub: I can’t really say which one is better, because that is not the point. It’s not a friggin’ competition. It’s just a different album, but, I would say, in a heartbeat that it’s much better than Let’s Dance or the forgettable Glass Spider or the already forgotten other albums he did during those dark days of the 80s – dark days for whom, you may ask? Certainly not for indie up and comers, like Sonic Youth, or the great, sorely shortened (by the tragic death of D. Boon) Minutemen, or the groundbreaking swirling, cascading bliss of Husker Du and others who refused to play the corporate music industry game, which, at that time was stagnant and spit out a lot of awful stuff. Was Bowie a victim of this era? We could play the “what if?” game for hours and wonder “what if” Bowie had gone through different avenues and, instead of (well, maybe he had some kind of contract to fulfill for a major label, which by then were on the way to becoming total, dispassionate businesses, who only cared about increasing shareholders profits) doing what he did. What if he had teamed up with some of these younger bands or singers. What if he had done a project with, after Bauhaus had broken up, either Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins & former Bauhaus roadie Glen Campling’s band, Tones on Tail?? That wouldn’t have been any worse than “Never Let Me Down”. Or, when Tones on Tail was active and Bauhaus bassist David J (Haskins) played with Jazz Butcher for a couple years, what if Bowie was involved in that project? There are so many great possibilities!!
But, he did do some, now that I look back at them, pretty tight stuff in the mid-90s: there was Outside, Earthling and Black Tie White Noise. Of course, I think Outside really was a solid work – something on which he worked with Brian Eno. But the real capstone that topped even his last release, on which I really can’t comment, since I haven’t heard it (The Next Day), was his unexpected (or – wait a minute, listen, I mean really listen to the lyrics, especially to the title track (“★”) –are those lyrics not a subtle prep for death? I mean, hell, Bowie was fighting cancer for the past 18 months, so it wasn’t as if his death just came out of the blue, say, the way Andy Warhol so very tragically died: he goes in for a routine gall bladder surgery – something probably 1000s of people do all the time – and winds up dead due to an incident involving the anesthesia!! August, 1987, another sad event that I remember only too well.
Well, OK, it’s been about six days now, so there’s been a little time for this terrible, terrible news to sink in. But there is one thing from which I can, at least, take solace in; and that is the fact that David Bowie, over the last 48 years, made a huge bounty of wonderful music. Music that will, in one form or another stay with us as long as there is something on which to play the music. Not only that, but he made his mark in a number of cinematic pleasures, including Nicolas Roeg’s, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Hunger, which he did with French beauty, Catherine Deneuve as well as Merry Christmas, Mister Lawrence, a small part in David Lynch’s movie version of Twin Peaks: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as well as a role in Labyrinth. I know there are some others as well, but I can’t mention every single one right now.
Anyway, to sum it up, there’s really now way to just stop -maybe because I don’t want to say “good-bye”. But what can we do? Death comes to all. When it takes you or someone close, all you can do is grieve and then try to console yourself with the fact that in the grand scheme of things, you and whomever the dearly departed is, at least you and they shared the same space and time when you stop to consider how long there’s been life perpetuating itself. Also, whenever you start to miss Bowie, and you are one of the lucky ones who happens to have at least some of his music – however much or little – you can always comfort yourself by listening to the greatness he left behind, by which he is immortalized. RIP, DAVID BOWIE, You pretty thing! (“Ashes to Ashes…”) -KM.