I’ve been reading Dylan Jones’ “When Ziggy Played Guitar: David Bowie and 4 Minutes That Shook The World”. A Xmas present from my mother who, when gift time comes around, forgets that I’m no longer a teenager and so buys me things she remembers I like or at least did sometime in the 1970s. Recently this has meant a biography of Ian Dury and this latest, an attempt to capture the impact of Bowie’s appearance on the BBCs weekly music show Top of the Pops on July 6th 1972 performing Starman. For Jones it is a pivotal moment for music, for culture, for Britain. I remember it too and it was indeed unlike anything we had seen before.
Bowie was hugely important to me and to many of my contemporaries, at least the ones not dressed in denim and immersed in the metal morass of Led Zep and Black Sabbath. In the 70s as he changed and reinvented himself album by album, each shift shifted a whole swathe of popular culture along with it. No Bowie, no punk; the coolest punks were Bowie fans of old. Like him, suburban kids from outer space.
As an aside, outside of the Bowie material what is especially striking is that here is another author telling us or supposedly reminding us that the early 1970s in Britain were like unto living in the less salubrious parts of the Soviet Union. I really don’t remember it as quite so miserable but what the hell I was 13 at the time. Watching the movie adaption of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy of a couple of years back Britain does look like terribly bleak and Stalinist. By contrast the Budapest scenes look rather stylish.
But back to Bowie. For 10 years he was the centre of everything cool, everything innovative in popular music. But then some time around Lets Dance he drifted from influential into plain successful and that was boring. Plus we had other things to think about like jobs and kids and all that. Occasionally something happened that brought him to mind again. I bought myself a Discman and Greatest Hits volume 1 for a long train journey and discovered I still remembered every word of every track. And of course there was always my birthday song. One can’t have Buzzcocks ’16 Again’ anymore once you reach 32 so this was thought more appropriate.
The BBC interviewed Bowie at 50 and ran it with their classic mid seventies Arena documentary on the Thin White Duke persona, all cheek-bones and coke. And Bowie at 50 seemed by turns amused and embarrassed by his younger self as are we all.
And in 1995 he reunited with Brian Eno and produced ‘Outside’ and for a moment it was like he hadn’t been MIA for 10 years with Glass Spiders and Tin Machines. Then again slowly drifting away and finally for the last decade…silence. Not one new song in 10 years.
Until now that is. Not paying attention to my own Banished bugs Book of Days I missed Bowie’s birthday. And it was Open Culture drew my attention to an impending album and the single from it released on his 66th birthday.
‘Where Are We Now’ isn’t epic, it isn’t world shaking but its rather lovely and deeply melancholy and for many who grew up with him very touching.