It was depressing enough to find three people who’d died during 2015 aged 67 – the age I became on January 1 this year.
But to wake up on January 11 2016 and find that David Bowie has died aged just 69 is simply shocking.
Country star Lynn Anderson (I Never Promised You) A Rose Garden; Chris Squire, guitarist with Yes; and Jimmy Greenspoon, Three Dog Night keyboard player, all served to remind me of my own mortality during 2015 as New Year’s Day 2016 crept nearer. They all died aged 67.
Still – all respect to their families’ loss – these were journeymen artists. Millions enjoyed them, so God bless ’em.
But what are you supposed to say about David Bowie that hasn’t been said a thousand times before?
Millions of words will be written and spoken about him over the next few days. The same stories, tropes and cliches will be repeated ad nauseam and young people will be wondering what all the fuss is about. He wasn’t Ed Sheeran, was he?
But we know, don’t we, we who were sentient in the 1950s? We were ready for the greatest explosion of popular culture ever known – Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Monty Python, James Bond, Muhammad Ali, Woodstock, even the first man on the moon and Concorde.
And that was when David Bowie just got his toe in the door with Space Oddity, an ‘overnight success’ in 1969. Seven years of frustration, failure and feeling his way through the treacherous music industry served well to strengthen his artistic resolve when times were tough, and they often were. He was the best part of 20 years into his career before he might safely assume financial comfort and the security of his reputation.
Artistically, he’s up there with with the absolute greats.
Only Dylan and The Beatles could be said to have been more influential. He was as restless as The Beatles, who reinvented themselves pretty much album by album. The difference being, they did it for six years; Bowie did it continuously over six decades.
I’ve been loving Blackstar, his latest album, released two days before his death. Unlike Double Fantasy – not well received, peaking at number 14 in the UK charts and plummeting to 46 before John Lennon was killed – Bowie’s latest (last?) is challenging, admirably uncommercial and containing lyrics over which we will now pore for clues to his state of mind.
Dollar Days, for instance, has the lines:
If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to
It’s nothing to me
It’s nothing to see
Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying to
Is Blackstar a cry for authenticity, but not at the expense of an ethical life?
How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangstar)
Oh, David. What are we going to do now?