A Guy That’s Been – the death of David Bowie

Are you like me feeling moved by the death of David Bowie today? Perhaps you’re wondering at the media outpouring, or young enough to think he was just some old guy who used to dress weird. You could even be like David who?. I’d have to admit to being somewhat unmoved the day Elvis died, although it ruined my mum’s birthday no end. Thing is, now I understand why.

Bowie’s been present throughout my life, immeasurably creative, making it OK – indeed you better believe it cool as Clough – to be different. He produced incredible seemingly unlimited art let alone music. I had a crush on him when I was a kid. Both him and Mick Ronson who played guitar with Bowie for so long. A double whammy with their spangly pants, big hair and fuzzy Les Pauls. Let’s face it, they looked like the girls from ABBA, but with fuzzy Les Pauls. What’s not to love?

For many people of my generation Bowie’s longevity means he wrote the soundtrack to our lives, was the ever-changing odd-eyed face of avant-garde, both King and Queen of misfit cool. So now like the millions moved by the deaths of Elvis and Lennon et al before him, the feeling on the day of his farewell is that some part of us has died too. A part that previously spangled and sparked. Can the overnight popflop X-Factor age produce an artist capable of engendering such a reaction upon their passing? I’m not so sure. Because that was no DJ. That was hazy cosmic jive.

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I Think That’s the One – a blog about my favourite vintage Bowie

While performing a mundane household task the other day I thought I’d put on some music. I had a look through our CDs and settled on some Bowie – a “best of” collection. Just out of interest I thought I’d try to decide which was my favourite of these vintage tracks. (Well, I guess all Bowie’s vintage now, but this particular album covered 1969–1974.) One track did win out for me, but there were a few close runners-up.

Hazy cosmic jive

I’ve been a Bowie fan since I was first aware of Space Oddity. I would’ve been two years old when this was released, so its one of those tracks that’s always just been there. It’s a unique track, and listening to it closely there’s incredible detail in the recording – something that’s true of all of these songs. But this one’s not my favourite.

For a while I thought it’d be Changes, with its warm, alluring intro, shifts in tempo and key. Or Sorrow with its soft, lilting vocals, saxophones and strings. But no. The Man Who Sold the World (my wife’s fave) is another great track. I love it’s lazy, compressed guitar hook, but the lyric I gazed a gazely stare drops me out of this one every time. I’ve got something of a soft spot for Rock n Roll Suicide: like Space Oddity it’s a track that stood out even when I was a kid. But I didn’t feel that was the one, either.

So which track was it? Well, in a way I didn’t want it to be this one, because in many ways it’s an obvious choice.

The winner is (insert drum roll here): Life on Mars

Oh, man, look at those cavemen go

Life on Mars is a stunning track. The piano riff on the run up to the chorus is superb. Take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy. That lyric alone could swing it for me. There are eddies and flows and orchestral flurries, the sheer drama of the cellos and strings. Timpany drums! And that beautiful, delicate piano in the reprise, followed by the ringing phone and the words I think that’s the one – presumably referring to the recording, I don’t know. Life on Mars is melancholy and dramatic and unashamedly epic, and I love all that about it.

While listening to these tracks I was reminded of Bowie’s immense talent. The man’s a master of vocal variation, and the musicianship on these recordings is fantastic. There will not be another like him, so versatile and influential.

So that’s it: my favourite vintage Bowie track. Predictable, perhaps, but with good reason. What’s yours?

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