David Bowie didn’t just die. This morning he was dead.
No one was ready. Warnings of this, there were none. Except…
Good lord. He was saying goodbye and we never knew it.
— Matthew Sweet (@DrMatthewSweet) January 11, 2016
John Mitchinson over on Facebook says it is ‘our Kennedy moment’ and hell that’s just what it feels like.
How to express what his life and existence meant? Perhaps only by making sense of what it meant to you personally can you properly memorialise an idol. For Bowie was experienced like no other. I never saw him play live and never really wanted to.
His music and imagination in this world was suffice.
This morning some little memories of him, in my life, trickled through.
Starman (1975) – The 1970s was a monochrome age, in Belfast particularly so. We were no strangers to news of deaths on morning radio. A new family had moved from Liverpool into the estate I lived in. English kids arriving in Belfast could get roughhouse treatment. I befriended one boy who was probably five years older than me. In his bedroom he had plastered posters of Bowie, Bolan, Kevin Keegan and Chris Evert. In the corner were neatly stacked little racks of singles and LPs. He played Starman for me on his little Decca record player then the whole of Ziggy Stardust as he smoked cigarettes out of his bedroom window. He was lonely in a place he couldn’t call home. For the first time I sensed how you could be lost to music and retreat from your immediate circumstances.
Maybe you could be anywhere, be anyone. That notion of possibility. Reinvent yourself.
I was 10 years old.
Jeff never much left house. He stayed with his music. Six or seven years years later I met him coming out of a nightclub. He was, he told me, at the forefront of Belfast’s ‘New Romantic’ scene. He had a little Bowie pin badge on his drench coat. We chatted a bit and invited me to come to one his club nights.
He told me he slept in a coffin.
1983 (Let’s Dance) – Let’s Dance was released two weeks after my 18th birthday. It was my coming of age album. It was almost as if he made it just for me and my mates to frolic around to. Something was changing in the national mood. Andy Beckett’s near- history ‘UK 1980–1982: Promised You a Miracle’ is the best account of what was happening and why. My folks went to Spain on holiday. Me and my mates went camping on the North Antrim coast in search of beer, girls and, you never know, even a little sunshine. We pitched up at the Temple Bar in Castlerock, a beautiful little costal pitstop with only one bar. We ordered beers and cranked up the big lumbering radio cassette machine with Let’s Dance. The soundtrack of our summer. At least it was until a bunch of guys rocked up objected to our ‘queer’ music and asked to borrow our machine, took a cassette from behind the bar and loaded it with traditional ‘Orange Order’ favourites. We retired to the sand dunes. Listening to the man by crashing waves, looking out on an ocean.
You can escape.
Warszawa — 2013 – I have become, in middle age, a bit of a Cold War geek. I am of the last generation who could travel behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. Bowie’s Berlin albums will forever provide the symphony to that divided Europe. I am working on a project with Musa Okwonga the poet. Now we have Spotify. I load up my Cold War atmospherics playlist. Warszawa and Musa’s face. “The song that inspired Joy Division” he exclaimed. Well perhaps. Everyone stops. Work half resumed hours later after we shared our Bowie stories and memories as we all are today.
He is dead in New York.
‘The great son of London’ is gone.
We let him into our lives. We were the lucky ones.
Now is he gone.
“Don’t let me hear you say life takes you nowhere, angel.” David Bowie 1951–2016