Well, this really puts Ed Stewpot in perspective, doesn’t it?
Unlike seemingly every other kid who grew up in the 1970s I didn’t have my life changed by seeing Bowie perform “Starman” on Top of The Pops in 1972 because I was only nine years old at the time and, to be honest, I don’t actually remember seeing it. But us kids were fascinated by Bowie who was clearly far stranger than Marc Bolan or David Essex in a way we didn’t really understand yet.
I had no clue about gender-bending or performance art, I just liked the fact that he sang about astronauts and aliens — and looked like one himself — and even though I had no idea what “Life On Mars?” was about (I still don’t really) the words fired my imagination and painted some bizarre pictures in my head. I remember going to the house of a school friend whose older sister had just bought Aladdin Sane and we stared at the sleeve image as if we were sneaking an illicit peek at his Dad’s porn magazines. It was both magnetic and a little bit… pervy. Heady, thrilling stuff when you’re a kid, if a little unnerving.
I was on the right wavelength for him by my teens though. The first album of his I bought was the compilation ChangesOne in 1977 which opened the gates and in the space of about two years I’d bought all the others right up to the newest one “Heroes”.
Digging in to Bowie’s back catalogue was a thrilling adventure, you never knew what kind of experience you were going to get and it’s astonishing to think that at this point Ziggy Stardust was only five years old but he had already covered more water and changed skin more times than most artists do in a career. I saw him live at Wembley on the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983 when he was in smiling, family-entertainer mode playing hit after hit after hit — Space Oddity! Life On Mars! Young Americans! The critics were sniffy but I was in dreamland.
Being another working class kid with an artistic/creative streak myself I had other reasons to be inspired by Bowie and even identify with him a little bit. Art schools like mine were full of his children, kids from shitty towns with blue hair and far-out dreams he had shown they could make reality. The early punk scene was driven by Bowie disciples, as was post-punk, synthpop, New Pop, Goth, and every other 80s act with cheekbones and eyeliner. The million tiny seeds he planted through the 1970s flowered and bore glorious fruit.
But all the conceptual, art-school trappings in the world would mean nothing if the records were crap, then he’d just be Steve Harley or some second-rate New Romantic act. The guy knew how to write a song that hit the heart and hips as well as the head and — something which gets overlooked in all the chameleon/artist/icon talk — he was a phenomenally great singer whether it was the theatrical sneer of Ziggy or the deep croon of the Thin White Duke.
And somehow through all he achieved and experienced he seemed to stay a charming, decent, and funny man. Thank you so very much Mr. Jones, may God’s love be with you.
Download: Somebody Up There Likes Me – David Bowie (mp3)
PS: What kind of person can rally themselves to make an album as good as Blackstar when they know they’re dying? Maybe he really was an alien.