It was Peter Noone’s version of Oh! You Pretty Things that I first heard and was drawn straight into his lyrics – all that talk about homo superior juxtaposed with breakfast and coffee Then Lulu doing The Man Who Sold the World. I already had Hunky Dory and by the time All The Young Dudes flooded the airwaves I was saving up frantically for The Rise And Fall….he was just everywhere in the early seventies and he spilled a lot of it out through other artists (Lou, Iggy, Bolan…) the sheer generosity and magpie energy of the man – just staggering. All through my high school years, his changes were the soundtrack.
I bought a songbook of his early work and marvelled at the subtlety of his chord changes and depth and breadth of his lyrics. Everything he did through that decade just added to his cannon and mystique. All the literary allusions and the way he used hip slang and played with words. I never wanted to look like him but I wanted to sound like him and write songs and explore art and theatre like him – all through my teenage years.
By Aladdin Sane the American influence was creeping in and I was as gutted as everyone when he retired Ziggy and the Spiders but I was still totally unprepared for Young Americans. I vividly remember hearing it for the first time, wagging 6th form maths at a mate’s place. I had been disappointed with parts of Diamond Dogs – missing Ronson even though Bowie’s own guitar on that album was excellent. But hearing the first few songs on Young Americans I knew the school days were over and we were heading towards some Golden Years.
The Man Who Fell to Earth had a great impact and Low was a high point – he was in all those late seventies Hamilton hippie flats.
Most of these albums are flawless statements from an artist at full stretch and working with the best players and contributors.
Scary Monsters came out in 1980 and I’d just moved to Wellington and was playing my early Bowie inspired songs in Negative Theatre. That album with its edges and references made me want to form a band and go electric – just tear off in a new direction entirely.
When Lennon was shot later that year I remember exactly where I was and how I was devastated for weeks. It felt a lot like that on Monday night as the reports came in. I was on Facebook sharing some early Roxy Music I love and the sudden news hit like a rock then a wave of grief as all those albums and faces and songs he’d made flooded back. Later I listened through to Blackstar and followed all the tributes as they came in and felt all the pain.
I saw him live only the once on the Serious Moonlight tour at Athletic Park in 1983 – seriously brilliant concert. Michelle was pregnant with Angus and we had seats up in the stand. 40 thousand people and a great set list – all those fantastic songs even the material of that time: Modern Love, China Girl and Let’s Dance – he won us over completely.
So it’s been a tough old week for most of us. Just now, at our weekly Spines practice, we played a couple of Bowie songs – Starman and Jean Genie. I tried to remember the chord book I’d had all those years ago and we may have to play something special at our gig on Friday. Then we did a really nice version of Stop Forever that I privately dedicated to him.