Tuesday, 12 January 2016


It's irrevocably January.  I rummaged in the early morning darkness of our study, and caught myself trying to make out the outline of the Christmas tree which isn't there.  Not much later, I stood at the bedroom window and watched the city worker dragging the corpses of our neighbour's tree and our own -- still beautifully shaped and bushy -- to the waiting truck where he pushed a lever and they were sucked out of sight.

Early yesterday morning, I was still in bed when the Resident Fan Boy shuffled in from the bathroom and informed me that David Bowie had died.  Like millions of others, I didn't believe it.  Bowie had been all over the internet; he'd just had a birthday and an album released.  As the news was confirmed, I thought: Well, he'd know how to keep his illness private.  (Evidently, by telling people on a need-to-know basis.  And few people needed to know.)

The day was spent like many others spent it:  elder daughter got a Bowie playlist off Spotify and, being a millennial, downloaded Labyrinth to watch on her laptop in her bedroom.  I resorted to YouTube, because I don't actually own any Bowie albums; I liked his music, but not enough to purchase it.  I was therefore astonished at how sad I felt. I suppose it really hit me yesterday how ubiquitous Bowie was:  his music was everywhere, his influence was pervasive.  If you look at any rundown of his long career -- and those were all over the news -- you see a long stretch of collaborations that put him into close contact with most of the successful rock musicians of the past forty years.

However, he's also etched into the memories of those of us who will never be famous.  I remember classmates dressing like him, I attended countless wedding receptions blaring "Modern Love", saw television shows based on his songs.  One of the first YouTube videos I sought out was "Suffragette City", a favourite dance tune at the "SUB Pub", in the basement of the Student Union Building at the University of Victoria.

I've always been a bit of a rule-follower, so I felt a rebellious thrill in shouting out "AAaaaaaaw.....WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM!" (The blond dancer is none other than Montreal's own Louise Lecavalier of LA LA LA Human Steps - Eduard Lock choreographed this particular 1990 tour.)

I looked up another one of my favourite Bowie songs. This is "Blue Jeans" from the comical short film "Jazzin' for Blue Jeans" - in which Bowie plays a loser called Vic trying to impress a pretty girl by taking her to see a drug-addled rock star named Screaming Lord Byron -- also played by Bowie.

The 20-minute film from which this is taken is mildly amusing, but it's fun to watch Bowie take pot-shots at himself.

However, I liked Bowie best in collaboration. After Freddy Mercury's death, an epic memorial concert was held for him at Wembley Stadium on Easter Monday, April 20th, 1992 - this was three days before elder daughter was born. Heavily pregnant, I watched tributes from Extreme and Lisa Stansfield - yes, I know.

The whole atmosphere of the concert changed when Bowie took over for his segment, which started with "Under Pressure", which he had written and recorded with Queen in 1981. This is Bowie's performance with Annie Lennox. It nearly blew me off the bed; I can't imagine what it was like to have been there.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the Wembley audience recreating Mercury's scat-singing perfectly.

Elder daughter, in utero, must have wondered what the noise was when I saw Ian Hunter taking the stage next. I'm a massive Mott the Hoople fan, even when not nearly nine months pregnant, and I understand that Joe Elliot and Phil Collen of Def Leppard are as well. You can see them singing back-up to "All the Young Dudes" (written by Bowie and Mott's greatest hit), and looking as if they were the ones who had died and gone to heaven. Playing guitar is Mick Ronson, a musician strongly associated with with both Bowie and Hunter. A little over a year later, he would be dead of liver cancer, which is what eventually killed Bowie himself.

If you've taken the opportunity to watch the whole video, you'll see that Bowie finished the set with another of my favourites, "Heroes". Looking back nearly 24 years, I wondered how his sudden kneeling to recite the Lord's Prayer would have been received by the largely atheistic London audience of today, even when delivered by the likes of Bowie.

Bowie sang of heaven in his final video "Lazarus", which is being described in the press and online as a "final gift to his fans". I don't know about that; it looks more like something Bowie was working through for himself, using his art as a palliative. I was far more spooked by the haunting ten minutes of "Blackstar", which starts with the remains of an astronaut who could be Major Tom of "Space Oddity" from 1970, and moves through images of shaking suffering interspersed with a sort of "Rites of Spring" dancing. At the 4:45 mark, the song shifts into a tune that is more identifiable as a Bowie song, and we see three scarecrows who resemble Jesus and the two thieves at Golgotha (which is supposed to mean "place of the skull").

Mesmerized and disturbed by the images, I was startled when it all faded away. Rather like Bowie himself.

It's a bleak way to begin the new year, but here in Hades, January is always bleak. Perhaps it is better to follow David Bowie's example. Hold on to what is yours, even if that something is pain and suffering - keep it private and precious, and share it only with those closest to you.

Then, make it as beautiful as you can and share it with the world.

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