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Bowie: One Year On

Our Steve KIW wrote this in the immediate aftermath of David Bowie’s death. Today, on the first anniversary of Bowie’s passing, we share it with you..
More than 48 hours have passed since I woke to the news of David Bowie’s death. It wasn’t many more than 48 hours earlier than that I had been listening to his new LP ‘Blackstar’ and in awe of another amazing album from an artist well and truly on form. It still doesn’t seem possible. I’ve been listening to his music all day; he sounds and feels very much still alive to me.
The outpouring of grief across the world has come as no surprise. Stars shine brightly and burn out all of the time and in this era of grief tourism it feels like everyone has to get their ‘RIP’ comments posted; to not do so is almost to be disrespectful to the dearly departed. But very few stars have shone so brightly or burned for so long as Bowie. He didn’t just make a few good records. His impact on the world we live in goes far beyond that. He was a catalyst for change. He, like very few artists of this or any lifetime, substantially altered the world we live in for the better.
Every music lover has his or her favourite acts. At least half of my top-ten lend themselves to an alliterative hive: Beatles, Bjork, Bush, Brown and Bowie. Each of their work is linked. John Lennon and Bowie collaborated on Fame and Bowie covered Across The Universe; Kate Bush and Bowie were both taught mime by Lindsey Kemp; James Brown, in his 1975 track Hot, Hot, Hot used the same Carlos Alomar riff as Lennon and Bowie had on Fame (and watched from the wings as Bowie revealed his soul persona on the Dick Cavatt show in 1974); Bjork, as fiercely independent of mind and spirit as Bowie, dated one-time Bowie collaborator Goldie (admittedly this is a tenuous link but it fits!)
With the exception of James Brown who didn’t deviate too far from his jazz roots throughout his career each of these Bees is creative, exciting, inventive and unafraid. Their work is free of the constraints of other people’s hopes and expectations. They are always moving forward; always prepared to take on new sounds; new approaches; new worlds. They have never been afraid to leave people behind; to alienate; to show intelligence; to cause controversy. These are true artists.
Bowie’s career is remarkable by any standards. His musical legacy spans more than 50 years. The list of awards he received, let alone those accolades he turned down, would run to pages. He was a true polymath: singer, producer, musician, actor, painter, instigator and innovator.
It’s nigh on impossible to listen to the 13 LPs he had released before 1980 without wondering how on earth they are the work of the same man. The modish sounds of his earliest recordings (Davy Jones & The Lower Third and The Mannish Boys); the folk styles of his Beckenham Arts Lab days; those reinventions: Ziggy and the glam period Spiders and the grittier MC5/Velvet Underground sound that makes Aladdin Sane possibly the best LP of them all; the American soulboy sounds of Young Americans; the Berlin trilogy. This isn’t the work of a musical jackdaw (as the BBC referred to him in their excellent obituary) but the work of a genius. His influence cannot be overstated.
Bowie was a one-hit wonder in the 60s. Had it not been for the release of Space Oddity being timed to co-incide with the moon landings he may not even have been that. Instead, three years after that giant leap for mankind Bowie took one himself. After reinventing himself as Ziggy Stardust he re-emerged as a complete pop star at a time when The Beatles were working on solo projects with varying degrees of success but the influence they had in the sixties over the way people dressed, what they consumed, read, listened to, how they acted and viewed the world was diminished. A time where outré performers were camp but never cool. The UK was pre-occupied with Europe and unemployment had topped 1,000,000 for the first time in the post-war era. In a stark world Bowie was living breathing Technicolor and children who were too young for the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll lapped it up.
Without Bowie the late 70s and the first half (the good half!) of the 80s would’ve sounded so very different. The Ziggy tour was attended by many impressionable young minds, Freddie Mercury, Boy George and Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter among them. The Berlin influence on the emerging synth acts is on a par with the influence of Kraftwerk (who declined when Bowie asked them to support him on tour in the 70s). The Low LP in particular is echoed in the sounds of early Human League and OMD. Duran Duran covered Bowie several times. Boy George has been quoted as saying that seeing Bowie, perhaps at his most outrageous and androgynous, perform Starman on Top Of The Pops in 1972, gave him the courage to be who he wanted to be. Siouxise Sioux has cited the same performance as a huge influence. Morrissey was surely taking notes. Through ambiguity and suggestion Bowie (with no little help from Mick Ronson) opened a door to the future that could never be closed again.
And this is why I love Bowie. He made so many things possible. He was the seed whose influence blossomed as I grew up. I went through the 90s with some pretty outrageous looks for the time. Had Bowie not been there first, had he not opened the door for punks, new romantics and Blitz kids to follow then I’d have probably had my head kicked in. It never happened. I’ve never since been particularly alternative and am perfectly happy in my own skin but he made that rite of passage easier by going first… and by influencing the musicians of my childhood he helped to soundtrack it too.
The immediate tragedy is that there’ll be no more great music. The Next Day was a remarkable return to form and right through to the closing notes of I Can’t Give Everything Away, the final track on Blackstar, there is no let up in quality which suggests that we are being denied an artist returned to his prime. Although I’ve concentrated on the earlier stages of Bowie’s career here that isn’t to say that it isn’t worthy of comment. Throughout the MTV hits, the toe-dipping into drum n bass, the early adoption of the internet and downloads, there has always been wonderful music. These newer songs may not always be as recognisable as the opening chords to Life On Mars? but they should never be ignored.
This Saturday BAOL will be hosting BOWIE :: BAOL. We’ll be paying tribute to the remarkable musical legacy of a man of many guises but who is truly one of a kind. Ashes To Ashes, no time for Sorrow. Let’s Dance.
The Steve KIW Bowie Top 20 (subject to plenty of change!)
Young Americans
Drive-in Saturday
Moonage Daydream
Love Is Lost
Fill Your Heart
Panic in Detroit
Jump they say
Life in Mars?
Memory Of A Free Festival
The Width Of A Circle
This Is Not America (with Pat Metheny)
Oh! You Pretty Things
Rock n Roll Suicide
Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
Bring me the disco king
I’m afraid of Americans
The Bowie radio show:
. 1979 BBC Radio One show
. Kicked off with The Doors, includes Elgar, Philip Glass, Ronnie Spector, Stevie Wonder
Saw him live on ‘The Hours Tour’ at Astoria, 2/12/99
Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Sterling Campbell (drums)
Reality Tour, his last London date, 26/11/03 at Wembley Arena
Finally, a couple of links to Bowie Tribute shows by Steve KIW:
David Bowie Special on 1 Brighton FM
A Tribute To David Bowie Part 2 Selected Ambient Works

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