It has been two weeks since we woke to the sad news that David Bowie had left Planet Earth and the attempts to honour him are ongoing. For example, there's a petition on change.org calling for him to appear on the 20 pound banknote. There may have been an asterism named after him but National Geographic explains it better. I wonder what Bowie himself would have made of it all? Despite the rock star status he kept his private life away from the media glare, one of the many things I admired him for.
It was a different story back in 1972 when Ziggy Stardust appeared on our television screens singing Starman, wearing nail varnish and casually draping his arm around Mick Ronson. By the time Ziggy came to life, Bowie had been establishing himself in the music industry for close to a decade. But it was Ziggy who made his back catalogue popular. The creative inspirations that fed Bowie's artistic output were endless - fashion, film, literature, men, mental health, theatre and women to name but a few. Everyone wanted a piece of Bowie and he was happy to oblige, soaking everything up in return. Bowie left his native London for the States and became friends with Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, both of whom had inspired the Ziggy Stardust persona.
Watching David Bowie interviews on YouTube is one of my favourite things. The Alan Yentob/BBC documentary Cracked Actor, filmed during his Thin White Duke phase, makes for uncomfortable viewing but is worth it purely for the live concert footage. It is Bowie at his most vulnerable (in front of a camera). At the height of his cocaine addiction and weighed down by the success of Ziggy, the lasting impression is of a man struggling to be himself. Bowie interviews from the 80s onwards are nothing but a pleasure to watch. You see a man who is as sharp as ever, with a great sense of humour and self-confidence to boot.
After suffering a heart attack whilst on stage in 2004 we became accustomed to the self-proclaimed God of Rock going about his business in New York, as a family man, with little-to-no media attention. There were intermittent Bowie appearances that got everyone excited about an album or tour announcement that never came. In 2013 he quietly released The Next Day on his birthday. There were clear flashes of 70s Bowie - the androgyny of The Stars (Are Out Tonight) - but this was a Bowie visiting the ghosts of his past, as heard in the heartbreakingly nostalgic Where Are We Now. The unanimous reaction to Bowie's 24th studio album was positive. Not only was his older material standing the test of time, he was still creating new sounds and pushing boundaries within the music world.
The public displays of grief about Bowie have received their fair share of criticism on social media. There have been several drafts of this post as I attempt to express my admiration for a man who punctuated my life with his beautiful face, unusual voice and versatile music, without making everything about me. I had no direct connection to Bowie and I have no anecdotes to share with you. But it's impossible to deny that he gave so much of himself to us through his art, and I understand why people are so upset about his death. Little did we know when Blackstar was released on his 69th birthday, with no media hoopla, that it was his parting gift to us. There will never be another David Bowie but he has certainly left his mark on the culture that we live in.
I have actively sought out the Bowie tributes - written by a range of people who knew him during his long and varied career - that have been published since he died. I've been heartened to read how generous Bowie was to both his contemporaries and younger musicians, in spite of being a visionary with perfectionist qualities. It was no surprise to discover that his ability to create new music was in no way dimmed by his illness, if anything it had quite the opposite effect. Gail Ann Dorsey, Bowie's bass guitarist from 1995 up until his death, says it best in my opinion: While no-one can claim to be "perfect" as a human being, as an artist, he was."
Rest in Peace, our kooky Starman.
P.S. I wonder if he ever gave George a call back?