Jan 16

Gnome Man’s Land

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I wrote a thing for here about David Bowie and how I felt about him and what he meant to me, but then Pitchfork kindly decided they wanted to run it, so it’s below. (Original title: He Could Be Dead, He Could Be Not, He Could Be You). And to any other good pieces I see, or that you want to point me to, or memorial threads.

My Pitchfork piece
Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead Of The Dame memorial thread
Alfred Soto’s obituary, for Spin
Ann Powers ‘Reflections Of A Bowie Girl’ for NPR
Rory (of Popular)’s memorial post

Meanwhile this feels like it deserves more than an RIP on a Popular entry, so by all means use this thread too to post, comment about Bowie, list your favourite songs, fit him into your history or pop’s history. Whatever, really.

David Bowie: RIP


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  1. 1
    Rory on 11 Jan 2016 #

    I seem to be getting more cut up about it the longer the day goes on.

    Here’s my memorial blog post.

  2. 2
    Cumbrian on 11 Jan 2016 #

    I found myself in central London this early evening and decided to take a walk. I have been on the verge of tears almost all day.

    No one noticed me leave the office. I’ve been anonymous all day.

    If asked where I was going, I had a flippant answer prepared, a truthful one, but protective of my own feelings: “I owe David Bowie’s estate some money”. I have been listening to Bowie all day.

    Organising my thoughts, working it out for myself mostly, trying to ignore the weight of the new media that devours news in the modern age and the communications that have sped this whole process up. I’ve been thinking “I must buy Blackstar” all day.


    I wander London’s streets with Bowie blaring in my headphones, before I drop into a record shop shortly after 5pm. No copies left. Apparently, the vinyl went first. I am after a CD though – have never bought into the vinyl revolution. Still all gone. More deliveries tomorrow. I go to another record shop, then a third – to tell the truth, I’m lucky I found three. A number of the places I used to go have closed now. The same story applies everywhere. I smile wryly as I leave. I’m not going to get this record today – but isn’t that, in some ways, a good thing? He could yet go out on top, and not with something dredged up by way of tribute, but with something new. Something exciting. Something challenging. It’s the first smile I’ve cracked all day.


    Central London is its usual January mix of harried office workers, sales shoppers and off season tourists, navigating their way past shop windows promising more tat, impossibly cheap clothing (at least impossibly cheap, if anyone involved in making it were paid somewhat commensurately with their employer’s profits) and the fag end of the discounts regurgitated like too much turkey year on year. Crowded. Impersonal. I know where I need to be though and take a couple of streets that look quiet that will go in the right direction, whilst Side 2 of “Heroes” plays out. As Sense of Doubt elides into Moss Garden, I notice I am on a street I have never been on before. The music fits my sense of alienation, as I begin to notice the shops on this particular street. Patek Phillippe. Cartier. Asprey. Glittering in their windows, the prizes of extreme wealth; the type of thing that is passed from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters, and again to their offspring, and again, and again. There is nothing for me here. Nothing for most “ordinary Londoners” either – though, give it time, I suppose. When ordinary Londoner means someone who lives there 15 days a year, yet owns the place, this might be the last set of shops open. I thank Bowie silently for the juxtaposition of music and experience as I think, you can leave other things behind that mean more than a sparkly rock or a well made watch. More ephemeral yet, possibly, more meaningful. I’ll remember this walk anyway. I notice the road is Old Bond Street at its exit, resolve never to return, and I cross over towards Green Park and then on towards Victoria Station.


    I have been on the verge of tears almost all day. I’m probably too young to be a hard core Bowie-phile if I am honest. He was someone to be discovered by the time I took an interest in music, rather than necessarily paying attention to his latest recordings. I did discover him. I enjoy the work – mostly Station to Station, Low and “Heroes” judging by my play counter on iTunes, with a smattering of plays across the glam albums (with some tracks more popular than others) – but I’ve never really loved him. I wasn’t there, you see. I think you probably had to be there for David Bowie, unlike some of the other artists that I have fallen in love with who are his contemporaries (and older, in some cases). What I feel for him is different, I think. Respect. Admiration for a man who ploughed his own furrow. Took risks his way. The type of thing I wish I did more in my own life. A lesson to be learned, perhaps.


    To tell the truth, I have been on the verge of tears almost all day and this is not about David Bowie. About 2 hours after I found out about his death, I received an email from my mother. Characteristically, for my family, it is to the point of bluntness. My aunt has cancer and will begin treatment this week – and I mentally calculate that, if Bowie had an 18 month course of treatment, then my aunt is the same age as him when he started. As it ends, so shall another begin. Maybe I can do something that will actually help my side come out on top in this one. Meanwhile, Blackstar is downloading right now. I’ll probably get the CD tomorrow. He could yet go out on top.

  3. 3
    Tom on 11 Jan 2016 #

    Thanks Cumbrian and Rory. I guess, from a Popular point of view, “Heroes” is the one to buy, or the one to beat. I mean, I’d love it if it were “Lazarus”, but…

    Oddly, for all that I have cried about it today – set off by the silliest of things, a mention of the 50s Beano, which I was researching last night, in a list of his favourite books – I haven’t strictly felt sad. More, an abused phrase, shock and awe. Shock because, well, obviously. And awe not just for the breadth of his impact on the culture I’ve lived in but because he met his end so remarkably and managed it so well – something which is hard to do, as hard as anything else he did.

  4. 4
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I felt a bit awkward about being so upset; I hadn’t really shared the excitement about The next day, let alone the new album, and haven’t bought anything of his since Tonight. But still.

    I remember “Starman” on TOTP. (It only strikes me now how oddly self-aware those lyrics are: if I’d been a year or so older I would have been on the phone to my friend straight afterwards (“Hey, that’s far out, so you saw him too…”).) I remember listening to my older sister’s copy of “Space Oddity”, and listening to the B-side – “The wild-eyed boy from Freecloud” – over and over again. I remember going round the shops to find a copy of Aladdin Sane the day it came out; I had to go to a shop I usually avoided as too expensive, and paid £2.49 for it instead of the £2.29 or 39 I was used to paying. (I was on 50p a week pocket money at the time.) I remember my kid sister saying she was convinced “Life on Mars?” was actually literally about her and how my immediate reaction wasn’t so much patronising as shocked – that’s not your song! you weren’t even there!

    And I think that’s my feeling about Bowie – that he could make you feel, as Lori Lieberman said about Don Maclean, that he was singing your letters (or your teenage diary) out loud, and that it was OK. Your dreams, your unspoken fears, your sense of uniqueness, your self-doubt – it was all real, and it was all OK; it was somewhere you could live, and somewhere you could be accepted. It was possible to be the self-fashioning artwork your teenage self had dreamed of becoming: he’d proved it was possible, he’d done it. And it was OK. He always seemed incredibly cool and poised, but for most of his career he also seemed like a really nice bloke – somebody you’d get along with really well, if you only had the chance to spend some time with him.

    He began as a mime, and an awful lot of his career starts from the premise that he’s going to get up and look fabulous – imagine Golden Years being delivered by somebody looking like Guy Garvey, or somebody looking like Ziggy Stardust for that matter. There’s a vein of shallowness & peacockery running through his work, rising occasionally to the level of solipsism – “Ashes to Ashes” is pretty much as great as anyone says it is, but it’s still ultimately David Bowie conferring with his inner David Bowie on the David Bowie-ness of David Bowie. But there’s so much heart there, too. I think it starts from self-acceptance: if he took himself as his own subject, it wasn’t (mostly) because he was working anything out or struggling with anything unresolved, but just because he wanted to explore some ideas about himself and play around with them. And if he had all this stuff going on in his head – and it was OK to play with – then why wouldn’t it be true of everyone else? Come on in!

    It crossed my mind earlier today – fleetingly, half-unconsciously and without the slightest irony – that it was at least some consolation to know that he’d written and recorded my song; at least I’d always have that. It’s a song I only discovered a couple of years ago, although it dates back to the “Wild eyed boy from Freecloud” era, and on mature reflection I agree with my unconscious: it is actually literally about me, give or take a few details.

    And the world is full of life…
    Conversation Piece.

  5. 5
    Matthew K on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Thanks for these great pieces – I felt like I missed out on Bowie somehow, my failing not his, and it’s great to read about his true impact. I realised after I heard the news that somewhere in my mind was the quiet belief that, of all people, Bowie somehow deserved immortality, and I’ve been feeling bleak and ripped off that he was taken down after all. But to go out on those terms – one last towering achievement.

  6. 6
    Anton B on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Would love to write something deep and meaningful and I probably will on my own blog but I just can’t find the words right now. Bowie influenced my every move as a teenager and well into my twenties and thirties. He was responsible for me forming bands, experimenting with music and noise and electronica, discovering the power of image, becoming an actor and creating a theatre company. I saw him live four times, on the Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke and Serious Moonlight tours. I just wish I could have thanked him personally for everything he gave me.
    His lasting legacy will be not only his own work but also the influence he had on others.

  7. 7
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I wasn’t sure what from his stuff to listen to – I listen to him quite a lot anyway, but reaching for Low or Diamond Dogs or Hunky Dory didn’t feel quite right. I wrote the Pitchfork piece with the recent hits package on, but I want to go deeper, and I don’t feel ready for Blackstar yet. So I thought, why not listen to all of it, in order, one record a day. I listened to the 1967 self-titled yesterday and the 1969 one today, and will do The Man Who Sold The World tomorrow. You’re welcome to join me of course, my commenting pals!

  8. 8
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Interested to hear your thoughts on the first album, Tom. It wasn’t all plain sailing back then…

    “Alas, my belief that David’s name had kept his audience from appreciating the quality of his work proved ill-founded. It turned out that his audience was well aware of the quality of his work”
    Sir Frederick Bodine speaks out

  9. 9
    Steve Mannion on 12 Jan 2016 #

    I may join in on the chronological catalogue listen. ‘Low’ is the only DB album I know well enough. The new LP is only a fiver on 7Digital too so thought why not even though I doubt I will listen it much.

    I’ve also quite enjoyed the hour-long Soulwax tribute film ‘Dave’ from a few years back which can be seen on Vimeo but here’s the YT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6wts7Ahzz8

  10. 10
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    As a kid, my friends and I drew a pretty firm line between the RCA work – ‘proper’ David Bowie – and the Pye and Deram stuff, which while clearly by the same guy, wasn’t. This meant we’d listen very earnestly indeed to “Letter To Hermione” (which is pretty awful) and completely ignore “Love You Til Tuesday” and “The London Boys” (which are great). More fool us.

    The 1967 album is still tough going for me – even allowing for the fact that feeling sad about Bowie’s death and the very early work weren’t a great mix. That whimsical side of him just doesn’t work for me much, easy to file under “glad he got it out of his system”. Insert platitudes here about how nobody these days would get the patience required to develop and hold an audience, except of course DB didn’t really hold an audience. It’s odd to think what might have happened if he had become a star on the back of the early stuff – would he have pushed himself and developed in anything like the same way?

  11. 11
    ace inhibitor on 12 Jan 2016 #

    (to paraphrase flight of the conchords):
    you freaky old bastard you

  12. 12
    weej on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Letter To Hermione isn’t pretty awful :(

  13. 13

    In the impossible blizzard of commentary available online, i spotted someone say that it took years for DB to get over hermione (real name not farthingale): since i think all significant developments in pop are a consequence of the betrayed broken heart (individual or collective), i am quite happy to argue that the years of pushing himself WOULD have happened if he’d got successful quickly, PROVIDED HF dumped him on schedule

    this thesis has the enormous scientific advantage of being utterly unprovable

    (apparently she travelled into the east and made maps, like some kind of blue wizard)

  14. 14

    ps in reliably contrarian promises-i-can’t-keep, i am thinking of writing up on FT the results of my relisten to the “second berlin* trilogy”, aka black tie white noise, 1.outside and earthling: the first of which i reviewed for the wire when it came out — i have not dug up my review and am in no hurry to — and the last of which i have always liked, even tho it came out when i was most [as i may have banged on about endlessly before now] burnt out on music

    *montreux is a _kind_ of berlin

  15. 15
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Jan 2016 #

    As the kids say, I just can’t with the first album – I’m working my way through them too, and just had to skip it after a track and a half. Yesterday was a busy day for work, so I can’t say that I paid a lot of attention to (previously unheard) Bowie ’69, but it was definitely by the ‘real’ Bowie.

    I only listened to his albums very sparingly (and always with a little nervousness the first time – what if this was where he’s keeping the duff album tracks that would make me dislike him – it never happened), APART FROM Diamond Dogs which is what my local library had on cassette and so I have probably listened to it 10x as much as the rest of his albums combined.

    (Does Pin Ups count as a proper album? It seems an monumental mis-step, playing to none of his strengths – I’d almost believe it as some sort of contractual requirement)

  16. 16
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    For the purposes of my listen-through, Pin Ups is certainly a proper album. So is David Live, Stage, all of Tin Machine, Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture, etc. Not sure about the Labyrinth OST though.

  17. 17

    Pin Ups is famously the only DB LP that Greil Marcus likes* or thinks is any cop.

    *Factoid based on stuff GM wrote 10239457 years ago which obviously he still entirely commits to no I haven’t checked

  18. 18
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Fair play (to you) – does ‘etc’ there cover the two-factor ‘Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby’?

    Further Fair Play (to Bowie): it takes <2s to realise that the first bonus track on Pin Ups is originally Bruce Springsteen - it's possible that I don't like it = it is actually Bowie as Chameleon.

  19. 19
    weej on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Re: #17 Really? Lots of respect for the man, but it would take a huge amount of very convincing argument to persuade me that was anything but contrarianism. Not that it’s a terrible LP exactly, ‘Sorrow’ is fantastic.

    #16 – if live LPs count then surely Labyrinth and Buddha of Suburbia should too

  20. 20

    Pin Ups (RCA). Despite noble experiments in the late 70s with Low and “Heroes”, this flashy tribute to the English scene, circa 1966, remains his quirky triumph (…)”
    — from the ‘Treasure Island’ one-line reviews section of Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island, Da Capo, 1979 :)

    I don’t think he’s trolling. None of those guys got Bowie then.

  21. 21
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    Anyway, the 1969 LP. When I first got into Bowie, I got into him at the same time as my friend John Jervis (not that John Jervis). We bought his back catalogue as we could find it, on cassette, making sure there were no duplicates. John had a head start on me so he ended up with more – this was one of his, and probably the one I borrowed least.

    And no “Letter To Hermione” isn’t THAT bad, it’s kind of startling to hear DB doing a straight-up break-up song (for all that he was canonically Very Sexy in the 70s there was a coldness there which quite appealed to my ascetic side as a teen), I’m not that fond of the 1969 LP in general though. It’s him alright, but with a couple of ways he was never or rarely like that again. It sounds of its time, part of a wider scene (some of this is priming from the final track, of course). And he hardly ever again did the thing of having the single sound so much more finished and polished that it doesn’t quite fit with the rest: “the hit” sticks out to the extent that it sounds tacked on at the front.

    Best track: “Memory Of A Free Festival”, the prettiest of the hippie songs and then Bowie suddenly uncovering the power of the big communal singalong.

  22. 22
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    #18 When I said “all of Tin Machine”, I meant ALL of Tin Machine, but I don’t own a copy of Oy Vey Baby and haven’t checked if it’s on Spotify. (Its absence is my main reason for not counting Labyrinth).

    EDIT: It is not. Nor is Tin Machine II though, which really does have to be included, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

  23. 23
    Tom on 12 Jan 2016 #

    #20 re not getting Bowie at the time – this is from my Tumblr yesterday:

    “I looked at my copy of Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert’s “Rock Dreams” today, their illustrated history or bestiary or devotional book of rock, from 1973 or so, to see if Bowie was in there. He is, in a diptytch with Lou Reed, right at the end. It’s a pretty dire illustration of him (Lou comes off a little better).

    Cohn, unusually, offers no text. He’s running out of inspiration and goodwill at this point in the book, disgusted at what’s happening to pop. How it’s no longer a way for kids to put their selves – their dreams and neuroses – into the world as new myths. How it’s turning into a cabaret full of decadent quick-change artists, a pile of masks. And why is this kid any better than any of the others? The book is a snapshot of a world where David Bowie is a last cynical gasp of pop, its dying con. An unrecognisable world. A lost bet.

    Perhaps Cohn forgave Bowie. Perhaps he didn’t. Why should he? David Bowie has been celebrated today as a saint of possibility, the opener of doors. Cohn felt he helped close them too. Anything that matters is the end of something.”

  24. 24
    Phil on 12 Jan 2016 #

    How it’s no longer a way for kids to put their selves – their dreams and neuroses – into the world as new myths.

    Ahem, Mr Son-of-the-Pursuit-of-the-Millennium. Ahem, I say.

  25. 25


    ^^^via sabina tang in twitter — BowieNet is still operative, and peopled

  26. 26

    nice piece by matos on bowie-the-fan as producer: http://www.mtv.com/news/2727141/bowie-behind-the-boards/

  27. 27
    Pink champale on 13 Jan 2016 #

    Listening to the Deram stuff (which I never did until Pushing… inspired me to) makes Bowie’s achievements seem even more impossible. It’s inconceivable that the chancer singing Sell me a Coat can be the same person doing Right not much more than 5 years later.

  28. 28

    greg tate on bowie the honorary afro-futurist: http://www.mtv.com/news/2727414/brother-from-another-planet/

  29. 29
    Andrew on 13 Jan 2016 #

    #2 it’s worth knowing that for most albums Amazon sell they have an AutoRip function that provides you with an immediate free mp3 download, so (unless you object strongly to Amazon on principle, or specifically on cost for a particular item) you have the best of both worlds – the CD on its way to your door and the album in your iTunes library immediately (or if you’re on the move when you purchase, initially downloaded automatically to the Amazon Music app; you can transfer it over when you’re next on your laptop/PC/etc.)

    Presuming you used iTunes to download, it may not be too late to claw your money back from them, if you so wish – I am sure they now do no-questions-asked refunds on downloads within a certain timeframe (and given that you’re buying the CD, there would be nothing immoral about this).

  30. 30
    Cumbrian on 13 Jan 2016 #

    #29: That’s good to know – I wasn’t aware of that at all and will think accordingly in the future. Managed to get a copy on CD yesterday in the end. Thanks very much.

    Currently, Blackstar well up in the midweeks by the looks of things.

    Not much more to add – some really good stuff being linked here though, so thanks very much to all those doing the writing/compiling/linking/etc.

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