Posts Tagged 'David Bowie'

How I Feel about David Bowie

Bowie

 

It has taken me a long time to start writing about Bowie.  I wasn’t sure how to say what I wanted to say.

For most of the last two weeks, since his death on 10th January 2016, I have been listening to his music, and continually watching Youtube footage, and generally Googling images of him.  That in itself is not unusual; I very often spend my morning train journey to work listening to one of his albums or another.
But since his death, the songs have taken on new meaning.  I now listen to every note, every off-vowell, and every hitch of breath, with renewed ardour.  I look for it all.  Now that this sparkling commodity has run out, and there will be no more Bowie, his music has become all the more precious.  Whilst in some sense, Bowie has become a non-renewable energy; so fortifying and affirmative to so many, and now sadly run out, he will never really run out.  It is such a blessing of modern life, and the electronic age that we all hate, that generations to come, in fifty or a hundred years, will be able listen to those same off-vowels, and hitches of breath.  Our great, great grand-children, long after we are gone, will discover Ziggy Stardust, and Aladdin Sane, and will laugh at the lines in Jene Genie, and choke at that final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide, when he announced that Ziggy would never perform live again.

Those songs, and recordings, and shaky video footage, and photographs can’t be extinguished.  They live on, where mortal Bowie can’t, as a wealth of fortification for people who haven’t been born yet.

For me, Bowie’s message is; you’re okay.  David Bowie says you’re okay.  It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear, whether you dance like a square; you’re okay.  “Hey Babe, your hair’s alright.”  Even though your face is a mess.  At those moments when you feel helpless, and like your life is out of control, and your body doesn’t look the way you feel it should, just remember that you’re okay.  David Bowie knows what’s inside you, and knows you’re a good person.

As an artist, what I find remarkable about Bowie is that despite his persona being ostensibly superficial; constantly changing, all glitter and sequins, and smoke and mirrors, it was all him.  Popstars nowadays are the public face of an army; in front of talented people behind the scenes who write the songs, and mechanically engineer the sound, and their voice, and promote them, and produce their outfits, find their clothes, get them dressed, style their hair, perfectly apply their make-up, and everything about them.

The classic image of a popstar sitting in a chair with people all around, producing a perfect appearance, is all too true.

However, everything you saw about Bowie was himself.  He dyed his own hair bright ginger over the sink. He applied his own make-up, even those distinctive images of Ziggy, and Aladdin Sane, with lightning bolts, and glittering alien foreheads.  He created every inch of those mystical, iconic characters, and the images which have become integral to our culture.

When you listen to one of Bowie’s records, every instrument is played by him.  Read the credits on an album sleeve; vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone, harmonica.  All him.

Bowie didn’t have a team of choreographers, and songwriters, and musicians (apart from Mick Ronson), and stylists, and hairdressers, and wardrobe assistants.  It was just him.

For me, that is the mark of genius, and true talent.  He was a star, with no help from anybody else.  Just him.

The other thing about Bowie is that he wasn’t copying anybody.  Uniquely in the music business, he didn’t follow in anybody’s footsteps.  He didn’t tribute history; he made it.  As Tracey Thorne says in her book Naked at the Albert Hall, Bowie invented whole new vowels, not content with those already available.

Many people, over the last two weeks, have commented on how personal this loss feels.  On the morning it happened, I opened my eyes, reached for my phone, and the newsflash had just appeared.  I immediately went in to tell my mother, and her reaction was exactly like I had told her about a family member.  There was no moment when she thought I might be joking, or it could be a hoax.  Just immediate grief.

David Bowie has always been in my family, as my parents were both enormous fans, and passed that love on to me.  I grew up listening to his songs.  When I was in my teens, we called our German Shepherd Ziggy.

Two years ago, I left home in the North at midnight, and travelled down to London with my Mother, on National Express overnight.  We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and stood in a queue of people for over two hours, all waiting to see the David Bowie Is… exhibition.  The tickets had been sold out for six months, so we were risking getting tickets on speck, as a small number are released every morning for that day.  As we approached the final stretch, with around five people between us and ticket desk, they brought down a barrier, and announced that tickets were sold out for that day.  After approximately two minutes of being distraught, we signed up for an annual membership to the V & A, and walked straight in. The experience of seeing his outfits, and shoes, and hand-written lyrics was something I will never forget, and one of the most special experiences of my life.

Part of the exhibition was a screen showing the video for Heroes.  I just stood, mesmerised, and watched it through around four times; watching his face come forward out of the dark background, and listening to his cracking, imperfect voice.  When it cracks, I can hardly handle it.  As Caitlin Moran says it perfectly, it’s like breaking ice.

My favourite part of the whole exhibition was a tiny scrap of tissue with his red lipstick blots on. It seemed so human, and at the same time so extravagant and glamorous. It was like looking at him.

The culmination of the exhibition was a circular room, with 180 degree screens, around 60 feet tall, screening his final performance of Rock and Roll Suicide at Hammersmith.  I had never seen it before.  I just stood there, with my mother, for around 40 minutes, watching it over and over.  That performance is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It’s unlike anything anybody has ever done.  Charisma like that, and a voice which is so flawed and imperfect, but absolutely breath-taking, and when the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile, like he’s pleased with himself at his own lyrics.  It’s magic.  I came home from London, and watched that video on repeat, solidly, for two weeks. I was even watching it silently, when I was talking to a Client on the phone in work.

Since the news broke, I have looked to Caitlin Moran.  As with all matters in life, I can always trust that she will perfectly articulate exactly what I want to say myself, but can’t.

In her Times piece, Caitlin opened;

“What a lucky planet we were to have had David Bowie. So lucky. Imagine how vast all of space and time is — how endless and empty, how black and cold. Imagine a tracking shot across the universe, nothing happening nearly everywhere, nearly all the time. And then, as it scrolls past our galaxy, you can hear, quiet at first, but getting louder as we close in, Rebel Rebel, coming from our Planet, from our Country, in our time, playing on tinny transistor radios, in a million bedrooms, as a whole generation, and the next, and the next, straighten their spines, and feel their pulses rise, and say; “This.  This is how I feel.  Or at least, this is how I feel now.  Now I’ve heard this”

And that’s how I feel.

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Learn Your Parents’ Music

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I grew up with a Mum that taught me about David Bowie, and Marc Bolan, and a Dad that played The Smiths in the shower as loud as the stereo would go. I spent a large portion of my childhood being physically forced to transcribe James lyrics so he could learn them for the Karaoke. There was never any question in our house about what real music was. 

I did buy the Number 1 single every week, and knew the lyrics to Take That, and The Spice Girls, because I had to fit in at school, but I always knew, at the back of my mind, that that wasn’t the real music.  The real music was what my parents played at full volume when they were getting ready to go out.  The smell of hairspray, and perfume; the twist of lipstick, and the creak of leather jackets, will always be married to The Style Council, always The Style Council, and Rod Stewart.

My parents didn’t forbid me anything musically, but neither did they need to tell me that modern music was trash, because they demonstrated by example. For my sixteenth birthday, I was given a Motown compilation, not because I needed educating, but because I needed more.

 The same applied to comedy.  I was recently discussing comedy with some work colleagues between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, who sited ‘old comedy’ as The Fresh Prince of Bell Air.  When I mentioned Blackadder, Steptoe, Fools and Horses, The Young Ones, Pete and Dud, Rising Damp, I was met with a room full of blank faces.  Similarly, when I returned from Glastonbury in the Summer, full of excitement that I had just seen The Rolling Stones, I was greeted by a room that was silent for half a beat, and the dissection of Miley Cyrus and Rhianna singles then resumed.

These blank faces of the young people, particularly the teenagers, lead me to wonder what their parents are teaching them.  I wonder, when I see one of these “Directioners”, or “Beliebers”; a new generation of technologically fuelled obsessives, why their parents aren’t teaching them that there is more to life than One Direction.  Why is no-one in their life teaching them what real music is?  Because it sure as hell isn’t Justin Bieber.

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Mania has always existed, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, right through to Take That.  Teenage girls have always been frighteningly obsessed by popstars.  For my Mum, before she fell irrevocably in love with Marc Bolan, it was The Bay City Rollers.  She sewed tartan into her jeans, and slashed her lip with a razor so she’d have a scar like Les McKeown.  Unfortunately, because she made the cut in the mirror, it ended up on the wrong side of her face.  However, whereas Beatlemania was on a certain level; girls screaming at airports and concerts, and then going home for their tea, happy and safe, the recent documentary about Directioners proved that this new generation of fans have taken things to a whole new level.  Aided by the internet, teenage fanatics can now devote their whole day, every day, to their chosen subject, and the hours spent online are proving extremely unhealthy.  The level of obsessiveness has already reached life-threatening depths.

Taste is very personal, and the kind of music, books, and comedy a person likes is what defines them, and what kind of person they choose to be.  These things are part of our identity, and how we signify to the world that were are angry, happy, goth, metalhead, pill-popping clubber, classically refined, jiver, swinger, crier, harmer, mod, rocker, romantic, new-wave, dubstep, rapper.  What we listen to is who we are, and there are no two people the same.  However, nowadays, that idea is already almost extinct.  The idea that no two people are the same is being rapidly extinguished by a generation of people who wear the same, listen to the same, watch the same, say the same, think the same, do the same.  Everything they do is the same, and the pictures they post of it on Instagram are the same.  What makes it dangerous is that they have no comprehension that there is an alternative.  For these young people, there is nothing else.

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Whilst recently browsing Twitter, I saw the hashtag #10songsthatmakeyoucry.  Bored, I clicked on the hashtag, hopefully expecting perhaps REM, The Smiths, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Jonie Mitchell, maybe Adele.  After scrolling for a good ten minutes, I didn’t see a single song listed that wasn’t by One Direction, Rhiana, Beyonce, or Justin Bieber.  No exceptions.  That was it.  There were no other artists listed, just hundreds and hundreds of people listing the same handful of songs by those four artists, perhaps with a Lady Gaga thrown in.  Where is the autonomous thought?  Where is individuality? 

I’m from a generation which, like those before us, take immense pride in the individuality of our musical taste.  When I was eighteen, at sixth form college, when questioned on your taste in music, what you listened to absolutely had to be completely different from anybody else in the group.  If you mentioned an artist or song that was mentioned by somebody else, instead of solidarity, you’d be labelled generic, and mainstream.  Your musical taste had to be eclectic, individual, authentic.  You had to actually like music for specific reasons, not just because everybody else did.  What has happened to that world?  From what I’ve seen, it’s slipping away.

If I have children, I won’t forbid them any music, but I’ll make sure I educate them well enough that they can choose intelligently, and find music that brings them to life.  Music should make you feel  so many things, and I want my children to have the power to choose from anywhere in history, rather than the top 10.

I want to grab these teenagers by the shoulders, each and every one of them, and scream into their faces that Lady Gaga is not the most inspirational artist ever to have lived, and play them some David Bowie, or T-Rex.  I want them to lose their breath as Nina Simone ends Feeling Good.  I want their throat to catch, as Bowie’s does, I want them to feel their heart quicken as Marc Bolan takes a sharp intake of breath, and they hear his words; ‘Take me.’  I want them to know what’s out there.  There is so much out there.  I want them to hear Bowie cry ‘Oh no, Love, you’re not alone’ in Rock and Roll Suicide, and feel a far greater solidarity than the one they get from having the Twitter Username ‘1DirectionFan32545223’.

Please, know that there is so much out there.  Your life can be enriched.  You can be so moved by people who play instruments, write their heart and blood into the words, and sing their entire soul out into the microphone.  Listen to somebody singing their own words, and you won’t even call Justin Bieber music. 

Listen to Alex Turner, if you want to be modern.  Music sung and performed by the people that wrote and lived it is completely different to the plastic, mas-produced, computer-produced pulp and trash that floods the world as music nowadays.  Listen to Mick Jagger.  Listen to Bob Dylan.  For God’s sake, listen to David Bowie.

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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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