By Connor Kelly
Do not believe the reports, foolish earthlings. He is not dead. As if! While the internet went into melt-down with the news that the human known as David Bowie had died, the Star-man himself quietly returned to his Blackstar without fanfare. I found a little known story in the further reaches of the dark internet about a rocket launched from the deserts of Kazakhstan yesterday evening that has been totally overlooked by the world’s press. Now that’s what I call PR! I can assure you that Bowie is still most definitely alive and well and relaxing on board with a glass of fine wine, and a cigarette listening to Scott Walker’s Night Flights and reclining on his space-sofa. I don’t know where he has gone, but my money is on Proxima Centaurai.
But, it is sad and disappointing that he has chosen to leave us now – when we needed him most. We can but hope for his speedy return. In tribute to that guru of glam, that sultan of sex, that orison of originality, here are ten tracks by David Bowie that mean much to me. It was almost impossible to choose ten – there being a wealth of material, almost all of which has value – these are but a few that sprang to mind on this sorrowful day:
1. Five Years (1972)
Five Years, played live on the Old Grey Whistle Test. Early Bowie – and one of the best. It tells the story of a pre-apocalyptic 5 year waiting period and how he and the populace deal psychologically with the knowledge that the world is to end. I first heard this when I was a kid – and its influence on me and my work cannot be overstated. Definitely one for our times.
- Outside (1995)
Although not to everyone’s liking, Outside is a masterpiece in mania and melancholia. Recorded in 1995, it marks Bowie’s come-back after his “dry” period (incidentally, a “dry” period that produced some incredible work). There is little point listening to any individual tracks on this record (apart from perhaps Spaceboy), so I have posted the entire thing here. This is a voyage into the darker recesses of Bowie’s brain, if you dare. Perfect for 4am parties where everyone has ingested large quantities of magic mushrooms and red wine – I know, I’ve tried.
- Satellite of Love (1972)
Bowie as producer (with Mick Ronson) on Reed’s album Transformer. Though mostly famed for his solo work, Bowie produced records for some of the greatest artists of all time – including Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. Recorded in August 1972 in London, if you listen carefully you can hear, not only the over-all broad brush strokes of Bowie’s production, but little flourishes of detail too – (listen to the piano track). Bowie has gone in search of Lou’s satellite. I hope he finds it.
…I am very small. I am looking through my mother’s record collection, again. I see the Queen Greatest Hits, Bob Marley live in Paris, and Fleetwood Mac Rumours, but stop once more at the same record – The Best of Bowie. On the front is a photo of Bowie (in one of his more dashing poses) – on the back are about 12 more different “Bowie’s” in various guises. I put it on, and sing along to Space Oddity, clapping – “he is my favourite,” I think…perhaps this was also the moment where I “discovered” my attraction to beautiful men!
- The Jean Genie (1972)
Undoubtedly the most perfect 4 minutes of pop every written. The thickness of the guitar flows like caramel over the haunting desert drum beat. Like a drug withdrawal induced nightmare, haunting, freaky, this is possibly the most unusual and disturbing pop hit of all time. Rattlesnakes at the ready – It’s the Jean Genie. (This version on TOTP, though thought lost, was recently found in the archives of the BBC.)
- Boy’s Keep Swinging (1979)
How fucking hot is Bowie in this video! Look at the way he moves – like a sex puppet on speed. Not only did he manage to set a thermo-nuclear device under pop music, he also defied every known fashion, performance and sexual convention. Here he dresses in different drag outfits, sings about boy-love, and exudes lust and style.
…I am in Primary 3, only a tot. The teacher – Mrs Boyd – is going around the kids one by one asking them who their favourite bands are. There was the usual – the boy-bands and girl-groups like the Spice Girls. I remember when she came to me, quite confidently saying “David Bowie.” There was perplexing on her face – there shouldn’t have been…it remains so.
- Fashion (1980)
Ever the magpie, the perpetually distracted Bowie would jump from genre to genre picking up anything that looked shiny to him and discarding the rest. Thus, in 1980 Bowie went super-crunchy with this electronic-funk inspired madness that is Fashion. Ahead of the curve his entire life, the word “genre-defying” doesn’t even begin to describe his varied repertoire.
7. Where are we now? (2013)
When this was released I didn’t believe it – I thought Bowie! – no! This incredibly touching video and song was Bowie’s first released after a 10 year absence. There were rumours – as now – of his death in the interval and this was a brash and solid statement of “I’m still here!” I’m still here – and still brilliant. Reminiscing on his time in Berlin – where he was happiest – it talks of loss and regret, and although melancholic, manages to leave us on a note of truly redemptive beauty.
…In a bar in Belfast – too cool for school – I was chastised for dancing to Let’s Dance by Bowie – “no dancing in this bar” I was told. Not one to be told that I can’t dance to a song by my favourite artist – let alone one instructing me to boogie – I promptly grabbed my friend and we did dance our hearts out under the “serious moonlight.” We were later evicted from the bar – a bar that bans Bowie dancing is no bar anyone should ever visit, it is no bar at all. I hope it goes bust…
- The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Not only did Bowie transform popular music, but, ever in the avant-vanguard involved himself in cutting edge science-fiction art-house film craziness too. Check out this clip from the oft-overlooked The Man Who Fell to Earth from 1976 by Nicolas Roeg. (FYI, Bowie also starred in the title role in the original Broadway production of The Elephant Man – to rave reviews.)
- Blackstar (2015)
This song is Bowie’s farewell to the people of Earth. This track and video – released very recently – is replete with experimental imagery and sound, and leaves clues to Bowie’s current whereabouts and state of mind. “In the villa of Ormen” – where is it? Does anyone know? We better get the star charts out.
- Sorrow (1973)
Possibly my favourite Bowie track, though one of the few not actually written by him. The tremolo on the strings gives the whole piece a chocolaty feel of pure melodrama. I couldn’t sleep last night. And my heart is filled with sorrow for you, Bowie.
We will miss you David – terribly. Say hello to Major Tom for us. And do visit soon. Xo
Yours, ever faithful,
Please post your favourite Bowie tracks/videos in the comments section. I will write up a more comprehensive Bowie retrospective this evening. Stay strong earthlings – Ziggy will return.