Another Music Icon bites the dust. What can you say about David Bowie that hasn’t already been said? He was a musician and artist risk-taker and innovator of the highest order, right to the very end. Having survived the dark days, and going on to sell 140 million albums, you could be forgiven for anticipating the next (and perhaps final) Tour – promoting the release of the “Blackstar” recordings. Sadly this was not to be. Instead, this epic album is Bowie’s final gift to his fans. His birthday, album release, and death, all occurring together. What a way to go! Sadly, it just goes to show that cancer can get us all in the end, no matter how talented, rich, or famous.
Fact is that like millions of others, I have been a big Bowie Fan for as long as I can remember. First we had The Beatles, and then Bowie. In my 55 Years as a music-tragic, nothing else really comes close. I love Nina Simone (as did Bowie) – but she was from a different time and place. Leonard Cohen at 81 has matured, like a good vintage red. Nick Cave is well up there as well, although still a mere mortal. David Bowie was the “Starman”, and the king (or thin white duke) of ch-ch-changes. His performances, dating back to those classic Ziggy Shows at the Roundhouse London, and ever since, were always an event to both anticipate and remember. Although, to be honest, the Roundhouse Shows were a little hazy even back then – fun though. And what about that “Ashes to Ashes” music clip, which has to be the best ever, even now over 35 years later.
I have a specific Bowie moment of my own. Soon after leaving school, and settling into my first job (in a boring Chartered Accountants office in Croydon, Surrey), I left home and moved into a furnished one-roomer in an old rambling Gothic house in sleepy little Beckenham village. This whole area is now basically South London, but things were different back then in the late 60’s, when the real London seemed to be a million miles away. Turned out however that Beckenham wasn’t so sleepy after all ..
These were times of massive change. I arrived there as a mod wearing the obligatory parka with the words Barry of Beckenham clearly marking out my patch on the rear. Soon after, morphing into a long-haired hippie, sitting in a circle on the floor of that one-roomer with my new stoned pals. Listening to the Sgt Pepper album – again and again. Then landing the job of my dreams at the Marquee Club, Wardour Street, after advertising in the Melody Maker for a position where working ability counted more than the length of your hair. It could only happen in the late 60’s. You had to be there.
In Beckenham, circa 1968, I became the local International Times (IT) week-end street seller. This was THE bible for hippies, especially those with an interest in politics. Pacing up and down Beckenham High Street in my long black coat with mags in hand, I can well remember David Bowie; Lady; and pram strolling down the other side. It was a small place. But my real Bowie moment was at the local Three Tuns Pub. This was the home of the now legendary Arts Lab, started up by Bowie and his lady Mary Finnigan, where every Sunday Bowie, then seemingly the Folk Singer and Mime Artist, strutted his stuff. It wasn’t all good by any means, especially compared to those heavier rock bands at the Marquee already well on the road to fame and fortune. But these were the formative make or break years for Davy Jones, after his name change, as he worked out his future direction.
Somehow, for a short time in 1969, I ended up working at the Arts Lab on the door. And that’s where the moment came. One Sunday afternoon, Bowie arrived with a demo tape of his new recording for us to listen to. That being the now legendary “Space Oddity”. The general consensus was a resounding but understated “Cool, Man”. Indeed from then on David Bowie became Mr. Cool – and has been ever since. Surely a defining moment for him, and one of those quirky happy life memories for me. Let the music play on ..