David Robert Jones. Such an ordinary name for a man who has smashed the holy fuck out of music in the last fifty years and obviously I don’t use those words lightly. David Bowie’s music is amongst the first I can vividly remember hearing (alongside Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and The Sweet (thanks Dad)) so I’ve been a fan for at least twenty years. His way with words has inspired two generations of writers, bands and musicians and his style (adopted from the punk and glitter thing rising in New York) opened oppressed teens up to a world of shaved eyebrows and skyrocketing makeup. I’m honestly struggling to write this because there’s so much to say, and I’m trying to hold some of it back so I don’t just explode.
The wonder of Bowie’s music is that you know every word but you rarely have any idea of what it could possibly mean. In the seventies this just added to his alien-like mystique, something that today wankers would call ‘clever marketing, the androgynous wanderer angle’. From my own understanding his style of writing was borrowed from the Beats and William Burroughs who popularised the ‘cut-up technique’ where you take a completed text, cut it into phrases or lines and then rearrange it in its entirety.
That’s how you get lines like ‘tigers on Vaseline’ or ‘Time, flexes like a whore, falls wanking to the floor’.
I’ve experimented with it myself and it’s an extremely difficult thing to pull off with any confidence.
The treat of David Bowie isn’t just that he’s an excellent songwriter, musician and (seemingly) nice guy but it’s also down to his legacy. Bowie hasn’t performed publicly in two years, owing to a health scare, and the world is waiting for him. He isn’t a musician who will make a quick buck on a farewell tour, he believes in what he is doing and has commented that he doesn’t want to be performing Space Oddity forever. While everyone of the same era seems happy to croon up onstage a couple more times (and I don’t begrudge them that because I loved The Who at the closing ceremony and was genuinely surprised at their prowess and Daltrey’s voice) Bowie is resting up in Switzerland and promising us something called Object in December.
Watching the recent BBC Bowie season I was amazed at his presence, to this day when Bowie appears there is a hushed revelry, he is honoured and long may it continue.