LTW boss and frontman from the Membranes John Robb grew up in the seventies and here is his tribute to the man who owned that decade…
Farewell to Bowie.
So cool you can use his second name as shorthand for quixotic, era defining genius and pop perfection.
Farewell to the alien who tore the fabric just enough so we could all get through and cheat the hangman and live the moonage daydream.
The most dignified death in the history of rock n roll saw Bowie turn his passing into a work of art. His final album dealt with the mystery of death with a poetic and artful brilliance and could arguably be his ultimate statement as he left the ultimate stage.
Blackstar is the final chapter in a decades long history of innovation and genius. Even the creative low points made sense. Bowie was never boring. Taking chances and creating sparks of magic that even now we are trying to unravel.
Forever young in our minds he will always be the eternal beautiful Ziggy with his freak wardrobe and wonderful music that turned the monochromatic seventies into a Day-Glo wonderland.
Life used to imitate art but now its death imitating art. The Blackstar album, with its dark atmosphere and death stained lyrics, is the poetic departure note of the man who owned the seventies and is one of the key corners of pop culture. This is the man who fell to earth with a back catalogue that is so stunning that it tells the history of a tumultuous decade and is still a golden seam of musical and lyrical inspiration crammed full of exotic ideas and quicksilver melodies.
Even if he hadn’t looked so brilliant, dressed so freakishly beautiful and stared out at the world with his hypnotic alien eyes, even if he hadn’t opened up a myriad of artful possibilities to skinny nervous kids like me and my friends, even if he hadn’t said ‘look there’s all this amazing stuff out there’, even if he hadn’t owned a decade and pushed its culture to the extreme he would have still been a godlike presence just for that series of albums and singles.
It was an astonishing world of glowing oddness that hypnotised you. I remember looking at the naked dog sleeve of diamond Dogs intrigued by its twisted strangeness and sci fi dystopian vision. I remember the micro group of Ziggy kids walking through my home town of Blackpool – proto freaks in a world of squares on a trip led by their zigzag faced hero who turned the future into art. And yet…
And yet for all his beautiful freakishness Bowie was oddly British. This was the true sound of the suburbs. The true pulse of the glowing freak show of the endless houses at the edge of British cities were all the great wonkiness emerges from. The pent up suburban sex behind those twitching curtains.
The man who invented pop androgyny, Bowie dealt in taboo as he tickled the warm underbelly of stuff upper lip Blighty. He said he was gay when rock was still a macho strut. Shocked pre teens wondered what gay was in those monochromatic, scared, damp English towns of post Victorian England. He dyed his hair like an exploding follicle inevitable bush of vibrant colour that perfectly matched his music. He challenged the cultural, musical and social taboos until they became normal and then he finally dealt with the last great taboo in the forever young world of the West. He dealt with death and even turned that into a poetry and an artform on his final album and it’s beautifully unsettling music and videos.
Rock music is now the dust of memories. Death the last taboo. The generation that challenged life are now being embraced by death. They are coming thick and fast and our high decibel tears are burying them. Lemmy and Bowie in a week. Two people who lived opposite lives that were both on fire – one a never flinching unchnaging gunslinger and the other the pop chameleon. Both were once challengers to social order whose lives are now being embraced by archbishops and Prime ministers.
Bowie created the modern pop star. He was the artist who built a team around his dreams. His collaborators were top notch – the genius of Mick Ronson, the king of production Tony Visconti, the ruthless brilliance of Mainman management, the curveball dynamics of Eno, the great musicians like Woody Woodmansey, Tervor Boulder, Carlos Alomar, George Murray, Dennis Davis, the quark, strangeness and charm of ex wife Angie Bowie – they and many others all surrounded the fragile artist and helped realise his dreams that were driven by art and not cash.
Wam! bam! thank you glam! Imagine the seventies without Bowie.
He was sone of a handful that turned the broken decade into a magical era. Glam rock was our soundtrack that got us through endless school days. The weekly dose of Top Of The Pops came to fire when Bowie and fellow conspirators like Marc and a few others dared to dream.
As soon as he had turned the world Day-Glo he was off. Ziggy was dead before we even knew what mascara was. He then went through a stunning array of costume changes that would have made mere mortals look foolish but each one he carried off with a swagger and a cool that made the outfits future museum pieces.
Bowie was a new kind of cool.
A post rock n roll cool. A cool that recognised William Burroughs as well as Elvis. That embraced mime and jazz and art and books and made this whole new world into perfect pop music. He was always hip. 24 hours a day turned on to what was happening and making it his own.
Like the Beatles owned the sixties – Bowie owned the seventies. His singles tell the story of the decade and if the eighties was his commercial pomp with the shiny pop of Lets Dance then he deserved the big league success even if the music was less interesting but like all the great artists, like Johny Cash he made his last hurrah another great creation.
So David Bowie has gone.
Another of the founding fathers has departed into the ether.
‘You gotta stay a young man – you can never grow old’ once sang Ian Hunter in All the way From Memphis and who David Bowie had handed a career break to when he gave the Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes to cover.
Just tossing away the anthem of glam because it was a spare song in your armoury.
That is just another measure of talent.
What was once vibrant is now sorrow
Ziggy eternal. The Egyptian god. The high decibel Pharaoh whose music will live into the afterlife. The songs will last forever.
Cancer is the cruelest of diseases but it gave Bowie the space to seal the myth and finish the perfect work of art – his own life.
The fighting dancehalls settle into the glowing dust of the past.
All we have now is the music but what a gift.