Monday, 11 January 2016

Planet Earth is blue

“Check ignition and may God’s love be with you…”


The 'Thin Wet Duke' in Wellington, 2004 (Image copyright Fairfaxmedia)

David Bowie called me a crazy motherf#*ker, once.  OK, it was me and the rest of Wellington’s full-to-bursting Westpac Stadium, but it was still a magical moment.

We were so-called because his 2004 Wellington concert had to go ahead despite atrocious weather and we all sat in the rain, the lucky ones huddling under bin liners. The paper the next day called him ‘the Thin Wet Duke’, but he promised to persevere through the downpour as long as we stayed - and he did.  It was David Bowie - we might have sat on ants nests wearing hair shirts to see him live.
And now he’s not.

69 seems so ridiculously young.  Just like everyone else, his music has always been a presence in my life.  
My best primary school friend and I sang The Laughing Gnome in the bath together when we were very young (although in the first of many mis-hearances, I recall we thought it was called ‘The Laughing Roman’ (Nice one, Centurian).
Many years later that same friend and I practically rebuilt our friendship with a shared love of Bowie’s music (not shared baths).

“I'm always amazed that people take what I say seriously.
I don't even take what I am seriously.”

David Bowie

Into the early 1980’s, Ready to Roll always kept us informed of Bowie’s current output…  Ashes to Ashes and the theme to the Cat People remake were there, but just sort of taken for granted.  It took another couple of years for me to become aware of his back catalogue - and then it really hit.

Sixth form parties… the odour of cheap beer, a rugby team in one corner and, if you were unlucky, two rugby teams in opposing corners. Alternatively, if you were lucky, there might be girls there. And always… somebody’s record collection.
In the wee hours someone put on an irresistibly infectious, weirdly angular song; a stuttering chorus sung with a mewling, but strong voice.  I know nothing about music, but as much as I can appreciate well-written lyrics and a good voice, for me it’s all about the musical arrangements - the subtle, powerful engine working away beneath the voice and words.  And this was the first time I became aware of a structure leading me through a song, soaring, hovering, darting - surging.

“Who’s that?!” I asked guilelessly - with my eternal cluelessness for coolness. 
“It’s... David...  Bowie...” someone replied slowly, with equal amounts of astonishment and disdain.  The song was Changes and I was hooked forever...
I bought the album the following week, my first ever.

And suddenly, I became aware that Bowie was everywhere - he always had been, of course.
Every party and school dance seemed to end with the single Heroes - your face, flushed from the exertions of a night throwing shapes, resting against your partners’ hot cheek as you shuffled in slow circles, usually with eyes closed.
I puzzled over this ritual - why is it always Heroes?  “Because it’s a song of hope.” maintained my friend Mark, always wise beyond his years.

And just when we needed it - a new album and Australasian tour.  Serious Moonlight hit, as did trendily baggy trousers and perms with shaved sides.  We put on our red shoes and danced the night away.
My final New Year's before leaving home: Bowie’s 1984 blaring in the town square, because suddenly, it was.

So many memories, so many albums which I am so very unqualified to rave about.
The Man who fell to Earth has left, but I think his spaceship knows which way to go.

David Bowie: 1947 – 2016

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