The Dim-Post

January 13, 2016

Inevitable Bowie post

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:42 am

I never imagined I would be this upset by Bowie’s death. Unlike a lot of mourners I didn’t connect with his music as a teenager. By the late eighties/early nineties he was too big and too commercial to be useful to my friends and I as we set about the teen ritual of trying to define ourselves through musical taste. I thought of him in the same category as Elton John or Billy Joel: perennial mainstream global superstars who my parents liked.

His music only became meaningful to me as an adult. They’re great songs, musically – but there are lots of great songs out there. They’re interesting intellectually (mostly). And that voice evokes a powerful emotional response even in songs I’ve heard literally thousands of times.

But other singers do that too. What sets Bowie apart – for me – is the way all of those elements combine to produce a unique, very intense interior state that is impossible for me to describe except by saying ‘That is the way I feel when I listen to Heroes.’ Or any of the other great songs.

Oscar Wilde claimed that no one noticed the beauty of the sunsets of the Industrial Revolution until Turner painted them. Bowie did something similar with the way people thought and felt in late modernity. He understood, somehow, that we had access to new intellectual and emotional states that we didn’t even know about, and his music made them available to us. And there are dozens of different, unique states conjured up by the different periods and personae he adopted. There’s something mythological about the way he revealed our real but hidden selves to us by hiding behind different guises and masks.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to posses that kind of genius – it’s like trying to imagine life as a bat and seeing in sonar. It seems so wrong and unfair that someone so special could just die, like everyone else, and that he was sick and in pain for so long.  I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like having the saddest song ever stuck in my head.

45 Comments »

  1. The emotional reaction does seem to be of a different scale to other “oldish celeb” deaths. I wonder if part of the reason is that he didn’t take the well-trodden path to old fart status: becoming Sir, doing the talk shows with familiar anecdotes, grumbling about the yoof/music of today, and generally becoming comfortably irrelevant.

    He didn’t look/sound retired and ready to fade away, because he wasn’t.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — January 13, 2016 @ 9:26 am

  2. Interesting that the Twitter crowd who love to pile on the PM for touching ponytails, or not acknowledgeding St David’s death give the afore mentioned Saint a get out of jail card for his underage sex adventures

    Comment by rayinnz — January 13, 2016 @ 9:54 am

  3. rayinnz – that sounds like an awfully broad brush – but then i dont do twitter so cant claim any authority on that one

    Comment by framu — January 13, 2016 @ 10:09 am

  4. Oh please let’s not talk about twitter!

    Comment by danylmc — January 13, 2016 @ 10:11 am

  5. I found myself disproportionately angry at Stuff for reporting what (some nobody called) Kanye had tweeted about Bowie’s death.

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 13, 2016 @ 10:44 am

  6. Talk about one extreme to another. That was a really beautiful post about Bowie, it literally increased my understanding of both Bowie and the world I live in – and then it’s followed up by a partisan bit of trolling by someone so fixated by the political world they can’t see anything outside it. Anyway, thank you Danyl, it’s the most insightful thing I’ve read about Bowie’s music in the last couple of days. I’m going to skip the rest of the poltical blogs today and just listen to his new album.

    Comment by Aaron — January 13, 2016 @ 10:54 am

  7. The emotional reaction does seem to be of a different scale to other “oldish celeb” deaths.

    The comparison that interests me is with Lou Reed back in 2013, especially since Bowie and he were so closely associated for so long. In fact, you could make an argument that there would be no “Bowie” without the Velvet Underground (insofar as we never get to run the counter-factual scenario). Yet Reed’s death didn’t meet with anything like the same emotional response … certainly lots of valedictory musings on his contributions to popular culture, but not caring. Why was this?

    (1) Reed never quite broke through to popular superstardom like Bowie did … “Walk on the Wildside” was never “Let’s Dance”?

    (2) Reed’s music/stage persona were more threatening – he never wrote a “Heroes” or “Changes”, and his portrayal (expropriation?) of gay culture was far more gritty than Bowie’s ever was?

    (3) Reed was, by many accounts, a prick whom many hated … while Bowie seems to have been a genuinely nice guy?

    Whatever the reason, I’m guessing the only “oldish celeb” death to surpass Bowie’s will be Dylan’s. That will break the internet.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — January 13, 2016 @ 10:57 am

  8. “Oh please let’s not talk about twitter!”

    with pleasure – damn their twittery eyes

    but back to bowie – weirdly enough we had just watched a biography on bowie the night before, one of those kooky coincidences – i never knew the sheer bulk of work he had released before turning 30.

    the best bit was his “all white diet” as he called it – cocaine and milk

    Comment by framu — January 13, 2016 @ 11:02 am

  9. I’m not sure Andrew, I think the death of Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger will cause such an avalanche of false nostalgia on radio and the Internet that both will need to be avoided for at least a week. Dylan is an acquired taste more akin to Lou Reed than Bowie, and his death won’t break anything. Nor will Neil Young’s passing.

    Poor Ringo on the other hand, I’m sure there will just be stories explaining to the millennials who he was.

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 13, 2016 @ 11:09 am

  10. I think there’s a difference, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. If Jagger or McCartney died next week, I’d say “thanks for the memories” and be a bit sad – but with Bowie I was both shocked and upset. I feel like other deaths would just bring out the back catalogue, which is where they already reside for me. Bowie was still alive musically, the knights mostly aren’t.

    And very well said Aaron @ #6.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — January 13, 2016 @ 11:19 am

  11. I wonder if McCartney/Jagger haven’t decayed into purely nostalgia figures … boomer acts that people dip back into for comfort, but don’t see as still a vibrant/current part of contemporary culture such that their passing removes something vital or relevant. As sammy 3.0 said up at the top, with Bowie “He didn’t look/sound retired and ready to fade away, because he wasn’t.” Can we say that of anything that McCartney or Jagger have done in the last, what, thirty five years?

    Now, if Keith Richards were to die, then that would be another story entirely! But I’m pretty sure he’s indestructible and that when the universe reaches its final heat death, he’ll still be floating around playing the introductory chords to “Brown Sugar”.

    As for Dylan being “an acquired taste more akin to Lou Reed than Bowie”, Rolling Stone magazine did anoint “Like a Rolling Stone” the greatest song of all time! But maybe that was just a marketing ploy … .

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — January 13, 2016 @ 11:29 am

  12. @Andrew there’s a difference between the masses and music fans. It’s probably a bit hard to see the gap if you spent your teenage years taking blank tapes around to a friend’s house to tape the vinyl that they or their dad just acquired – probably ultimately from the UK or the US. (Or maybe I’m just projecting.) looking at Spotify’s end of year stats shows this quite clearly tho’. (Or may I am actually old now, but only one of the top five produces music in my books.)

    What I also think you and Sammy are saying is that the image of Bowie in the collective cultural consciousness is of someone young (or perennial young). Put David Bowie into a google image search and that’s the images you get back. Whereas for the likes of Neil Young you get images that look like a grumpy old man or a newly discovered species of deep sea fish.

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 13, 2016 @ 11:55 am

  13. I feel in a way that Dylan’s great songs don’t really belong to him. Partly because there have been so many remakes but mostly because it is simply not possible that some jerk kid wrote that music that people will keep listening to for hundreds of years. Bowie’s great songs, on the other hand, seem inseparable from him.

    Comment by danylmc — January 13, 2016 @ 11:59 am

  14. That’s an interesting point Danyl. I was going to reply the albums like Infidels couldn’t possibly be owned by anyone else, but then I got stuck thinking about the nature of reinvention for both artists.

    A year or so ago I went on a big Bowie binge; my feeling at the end of it was that Bowie took a lot number of musical archetypes and recorded the paragon example of it. 1983 is literally Cat people and China Girl even if you didn’t go on to like that style of music.

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 13, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

  15. He also did some acting and I liked his brief performance in Extras where he poked fun at Ricky Gervais.

    Comment by Ross — January 13, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

  16. He blazed through the 70s on the spaceship American Iconography.

    I’m having to listen to music just on headphones at the moment and what’s stuck me is his vocal arrangements. He’s usually double tracking but the it’s a different character and he often splits the lead vocal between tracks. It somehow intensifies the drama and narrative.

    It’s quite incredible how he manges to sing the lyrics for Young American.

    Comment by NeilM — January 13, 2016 @ 1:09 pm

  17. Its a tough one, music, because it is such a personal experience for many people, (especially music obsessives like some of us here). A piece of music that could bring you to tears of emotion, could put the person next to you to sleep, and its also often contextualised by when you first started listening to the music.

    For me Bowie was amazing as a person and performer, but being a teen of the 90s not quite of my time. My discovery of Bowie was similar to my discovery of Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young (I was and still am a much bigger fan of Nirvana’s version of Man who sold the world than the original). I’m not sure if its just me but, the bad p is that most of the music that truly moved me seemed to really hit in the sweet spot of teenage/20’s years when ideals were a lot stronger, and cynicism a lot lower. A big shock I found last year was watching the Cobain documentary Montage of Heck (which I was looking forward to watching), and by the end having a the stuffing knocked out of someone I used to hero worship. Here was a person who was openly being a junkie when he had a small daughter. 10 years ago I would have bought into the myth. Now being in my 30’s with kids, I found it abhorrent.

    Like I said a personal experience, which is the truly amazing gift that music is

    Comment by max — January 13, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

  18. Bowie’s great songs, on the other hand, seem inseparable from him.

    Oh, I don’t know … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spctmJo9BPg

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — January 13, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

  19. If we’re playing that game https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8chM6lXE_9I

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 13, 2016 @ 4:25 pm

  20. Hey cool game….can I play too…

    Comment by Gyben Herzberg — January 13, 2016 @ 5:26 pm

  21. Your second to last paragraph magnificently nails, I think, what made Bowie something a bit different and quite remarkable.

    He did also, as some have noted, encourage a number of other artists to do his work.

    Shameless link touting here…a brief piece on his work with Lulu. http://robhosking.com/2016/01/13/return-of-the-short-ginga-duchess/

    Comment by robhosking — January 13, 2016 @ 8:06 pm

  22. Comment by max — January 13, 2016 @ 9:21 pm

  23. Bowie was iconic, speaking as a musician who grew up in a musical galaxy in which Bowie shone brightly, I’ve borrowed from him on a number of occasions, even put something out at Christmas which was Bowiesque (lyrically). But that is how Boweie empowered rock. Bowie elevated the homage/pastiche approach to pop culture above mere copying , into something cool in itself. He shamelessly appropriated stuff, from Anthony Newley, Shirley Bassey To Lou Reed and Iggy Pop or Visconti and Bolan, He mapped out the ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ ethos perfectly. Even after punk swept us up, Bowie still maintained an iconic elder-statesman status for younger musicians, and although there were self-conscious imitators and acolytes from Bauhaus, Psychedelic Furs, Placebo, Spin, Suede – Bowie made it cool to emulate, not imitate, For me, his lasting legacy is that he heralded the post-modern notion of the artist as a constant work in progress, who is entitled to pastiche all that is cool around him – if he or she can do it with individual flair. However, the bottom line and that which is often missed when people do choose to get wrapped up in Bowie’s exploitation of image – is that he wrote some great songs, and to do this spanning a career of some six decades is a massive achievement. My favourite young Bowie probably ‘Rock’n’Roll suicide’ favourite older “Everyone says Hi’ for ex-pats everywhere:

    sympathies to his family.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 13, 2016 @ 11:02 pm

  24. I thought of him in the same category as Elton John or Billy Joel: perennial mainstream global superstars who my parents liked.

    The horror! The horror!

    Comment by Psycho Milt — January 14, 2016 @ 6:49 am

  25. lovely piece – and arguably music is about taste/sensibility etc but Lou Reeds death did affect me deeply – in a way Bowie’s hasn’t – maybe it’s because Reed taps into my screwed-upness more than Bowie – perhaps – that and Tin Machine and Bowie’s 80’s, through to 00’s stuff

    Comment by rodaigh — January 14, 2016 @ 9:38 am

  26. Bowie also sang other writer’s stuff, such as this Morrissey number I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday. Bowie believed it was a parody of one of his (Bowie) songs.

    Comment by Ross — January 14, 2016 @ 9:48 am

  27. The only reservation I have about the liberating/transformative influence of that New York scene is that for many of the secondary characters that provided inspiration their lives were often more tragic – strangers in a strange land that did not he the talent or wherewithal to to be anything else.

    Comment by NeilM — January 14, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

  28. It’s probably salient to the Bowie vs. Reed debate above that Bowie produced Transformer. So as Andrew mentioned, there may have been no Bowie without VU, there may also have been no more Reed without Bowie.

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 15, 2016 @ 11:22 am

  29. Whereas John Waters one could say showed a greater sense of duty of care. Apart from bad dietary advice on occasion.

    But young and fearless, young and careless.

    Comment by NeilM — January 15, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

  30. I don’t think there is a Bowie v Reed any more than there is a Bowie v Iggy. The idea that Bowie was second-rate to less ‘popular’ artist is a cop oout and misses the point about what bowie was most expert at – fusing styles, and re-inventing almost branding them with his own identity. ‘Heroes’ for example to me is T-Rex meets Iggy Pop, but WTF – it is Bowie to the bone. Lou was Lou, Iggy was Iggy, Dave was Dave, end of.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 16, 2016 @ 7:08 am

  31. I didn’t mean to set up a “Bowie v Reed” contest in the sense of “who was better/more important as an artist”. All genius is a mix of individual inspiration and cultural collaboration. My initial comment linking Reed with Bowie was more a reflection on (and affirmation of) Danyl’s musings on why Bowie’s passing has been so affecting when other equally canonical figures weren’t.

    But seeing as we’re dabbling in these waters … Patti Smith, anyone?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — January 16, 2016 @ 9:10 am

  32. I’ve been thinking about her a bit, because it certain points in some of her songs – like Land, bits of Rock and Roll Nigger – I get the same vertiginous sense I get from Bowie, that I’m thinking and feeling something new and unique and irreducibly complex. Way less so with her than Bowie though

    Comment by danylmc — January 16, 2016 @ 10:20 am

  33. Yeah I hear you, it’s not a peeing constest. Patti had a brief but important influence. My favourite fusion which really shows what people can do when they get it right – between Iggy and Bowie – sits here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2GJ0Eafa74

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 16, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

  34. Amusingly, Bowie got rather irritated when kids went up to him and said, “hey, cool, you’re doing a Nirvana song!”

    Comment by Kumara Republic — January 16, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

  35. I find it hard to believe that any children were allowed into fortress Bowie.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 16, 2016 @ 7:37 pm

  36. Great price Danyl and broadly mirrors my own feelings, though I’ll admit to being somewhat of a Bowie fan in my teens particularly of the much under-rated ‘Black Tie, White noise’.
    I think it’s accurate though that I only really started to fully appreciate his music as an adult precisely because of the sort of musical evocation you describe based on Bowie’s invocation of certain characters / characteristics. In that sense, I think Bowie is probably unique – I certainly can’t think of comparative pop-culture music that consistently achieves this.

    As per sammy 3.0, I found myself profoundly shocked at his death.
    Discussing with Mrs. W. (a big Bowie fan also) in the days afterwards, we came to the conclusion that this may well have been our generation’s ‘Elvis moment’.

    My one consistent though over the period was, weirdly, “Tony Visconti must feels like he’s has his soul cut out”.

    Comment by Gregor W — January 18, 2016 @ 11:13 am

  37. Patti Smith was a favourite of junkie friends of mine that didn’t survive long into their twenties, so I avoided listening to her for years. But lately I have been relistening to Horses and have to admit it is probably in my top ten favourite albums. I’m not sure if I ever hear its influence in other music though.

    I also apologise for using the shortcut “vs” in discussing Reed and Bowie earlier. I wasn’t suggesting Andrew thinks one is better than the other. Andrew is obviously a balanced and fair individual🙂

    Comment by rsmsingers — January 18, 2016 @ 11:33 am

  38. I think this subject has been well-handled in general, by everyone here. I saw an article about ‘grief-porn’ and wondered if responses to Bowie’s death merited that accusation. Well on reflection, I think not. I think the guy did have his highs (and Lows) as all do, in his career. I even think he tried to ‘grow up’ and embrace acting, with some minor success, but went back to music because it was who he was. All in all I feel that an essential humanity permeates Bowie’s corpus of work, and although Morissey was critical of Bowie’s showbiz games, Bowie got where he got by calculation, talent and staying power. That’s how we know about him. So we are entitled to feel some ‘grief’ – perhaps (‘regret’ is a better word) about his death, and this has been a ‘grief-porn free’ environment to discuss it..

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 20, 2016 @ 7:41 am

  39. Bowie got where he got by calculation…

    My impression is that his chameleon stage personality had a lot more to with the exigencies of the business and his life rather than a planed creative approach.

    He liked explanations that didn’t quite explain, he self mythologised as a device.

    I haven’t listened to the lyrics in any detail yet of his last album but I’d guess he tied up some loose ends and frayed some others.

    Time, he’s waiting in the wings
    He drives a steamroller
    Oh you pretty things

    Comment by NeilM — January 20, 2016 @ 1:39 pm

  40. Should have made that a bulldozer. Which was possibly a reference to a wrecking ball, given the clown.

    Comment by NeilM — January 21, 2016 @ 2:38 am

  41. Thank you for clarifying that, Neil.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 22, 2016 @ 7:11 am

  42. I jest somewhat.

    The ominous bulldozer in the Ashes to Ashes video reminds me of the wrecking ball in Fellini’s Orchestra Rehearsal. Bowie dressing as a clown is suggestive of Fellini as well. But there are probably a myriad of references.

    He has the appropriate lyric – We were so turned on by your lack of conclusion

    He was a bit coy about what Bewlay Brothers was about but I think it was about something particular. The loosened associations structure perhaps being inspired by Desolation Row.

    Don’t know what to make of that outro though.

    Comment by NeilM — January 22, 2016 @ 11:19 pm

  43. The Bewley Brothers was about his brother who had a long history of metal illness. The clown look i Ashes to Ashes was ripped directly from Steve Strange of Visage fame. The bulldozer was .. well just there as a juggernaut reference perhaps. I think that ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was a follow up to ‘Space Oddity’ where Major Tom is rediscovered after a long orbit to have developed a ‘habit’ and far from being the wholesome and optimistic clean-cut astronaut, had descended into being a junkie, dependent on his life-support systems. It was a metaphor IMO for the damaging effects of fame as it provided the means for any innocent abroad to become corrupted and addicted. the outro was (again, IMO) an arch suggestion that in the alt-world of pop (an environment Bowie repeatedly fabricated) , ‘Major Tom’ had become a mythologised ‘bogey-man’ used by ‘straights’ to frighten children into compliance. ‘This is what happens to the Icarus-figure who aspires to greatness. Instead of burning in the sun, he becomes a junkie who is used as a folk-totem to warn children against the evils of non-comformioty. ..But it’s late I’ve had a few hawthorn wines, , so a I might be wrong.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 23, 2016 @ 12:21 am

  44. … sorry I meant t say ‘mental illness’.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — January 23, 2016 @ 12:22 am

  45. ..But it’s late I’ve had a few hawthorn wines,

    Midnight back at the kitchen door.

    Comment by Joe W — January 23, 2016 @ 2:07 am


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