Last year, upon learning of David Bowie’s death, I put myself on a “Bowie Cleanse” and I can’t recommend it enough. What was meant to be four weeks of reintroducing myself to his earlier music turned into nearly six months of reading, listening, watching and listening some more to Bowie nearly exclusively. And now, almost a year to the date of the tragic event, and on what would have been his 70th birthday I remain entirely fascinated and in love with the man who created so much, both on his own and collaboratively, and am forever grateful for the magnitude of his body of work, which will be enjoyed by so many until the end of time.
I first heard of David’s passing on Facebook, and as with any news coming through via social media I treated it with the scepticism it deserved. There’s always a slight glimmer of hope, when reading about a celebrity death on Facebook, that it will be a cruel hoax. That someone with no moral compass has pulled an epic dickmove and cured their isolation-induced boredom by virtually killing off a beloved icon for kicks. But then the BBC reported it, followed by NPR and it couldn’t be avoided or denied.
There was a heaviness then. It clung to my limbs and made even the simple act of stepping into the shower laborious. I ruminated on the news as the hot water pelted my scalp and cascaded off the slope of my chin. I only became aware I was crying when the water went cold and I could feel the heat of the tears on my cheeks. I don’t think I washed any part of my body that day. It just didn’t seem that important and I was fucking sad.
I’m not a highly emotional person. I think most of my closest friends have seen me cry once, maybe twice if they were extra trustworthy or knew me when my mom died. However, this death was significant enough to me that the waterworks were in full effect. I felt I’d wasted the time we had together and the idea that there was no more music to come, that it was over. Like over, over, was too much for my brittle little heart to bear. I finally understood why Don McLean wrote that stupidly long song about the day the music died. Also I was due to come on my period, so there’s that.
I want to share with you some of the reasons I heart David Bowie that go beyond his insane and obvious talents. Reasons why I’d get his gorgeous face tattooed on my own if I was slightly less career oriented or slightly more cray, why he makes sense even when nothing else does and why you might also like to give my patent pending “Bowie Cleanse” a try – recipe at the end.
He was not always great, he was actually a bit shit.
Many people I’ve spoken to don’t know this. They think the the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s first attempt to crack the music industry and that he just had really good timing. Well, that’s just bullshit.
From 1962-1968 he was busy failing. Really busy. David Jones, as he was named, was in six bands throughout this period. The Konrads, Davie Jones and the King Bees, the Manish Boys, the Lower Third and the Buzz. None managed any chart success, but this didn’t put David off. Nope! He changed his name to David Bowie in 1967 and released his first solo album. Remember it? Of course you don’t. It was awful (but you should listen anyway, at least to the Laughing Gnome).
My first encounter with Bowie’s music was 1966’s offering I Dig Everything from the album the Pye Singles, which I bought at a vintage record store in the very early 90’s because it was the only album I could afford. Needless to say it’s a far cry from the nihilistic rock god, Ziggy Stardust, but it’s Austin Powers realness and I love it.
David never let failure keep him down for long. He was a resilient little fucker and just kept getting back up. All that time he wasn’t achieving any commercial success he was becoming a better musician and was forming his musical identity, which he would later shed and reinvent time and time again because why the fuck not? This lack of success also spurred him on to explore other mediums like mime and theatre, which we all know came in handy in the following years.
The early disappointments, which led to later success, gave him the confidence to experiment with music and to keep pushing himself whether or not he had the approval of the public or his record labels. Without these early defeats I argue that Bowie wouldn’t have dared to be so experimental with his work and we may have missed out on risky, but beloved, albums like Low and Outside.
Keep trying and keep not making it until you do.
He was a generous friend
I think all of us want to believe that we are good friends, but the outpouring of love and respect that came from Bowie’s circle after he died was really something. Known as being a bit of a musical magpie and for cherry picking musicians from other artist’s bands, Bowie had certainly ruffled a few feathers in his pursuit of greatness. But his professional shrewdness couldn’t overshadow his generous nature and few could stay angry with him for long.
Truefact! Bowie wrote songs for and produced many other musicians’ brilliant albums because friends.
1970’s super albums, Lust for Life and Transformer, by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed respectively, have withstood the test of time and have earned their place in Rock n’Roll history. Coincidence that both were produced by Bowie? Nah. Bowie even toured with Pop in 1977 playing the keyboard and providing backing vocals. Always generous with his talent and his time these two were #friendshipgoals.
To be a musician of Bowie’s calibre and to take time out of your own schedule, especially when you have a record company breathing down your neck and the public baying for your next album is a bold move and Bowie did this on multiple occasions. A seemingly unending capacity to create, he was always happy to help his friends with their projects and they were always triumphs. We should all be so lucky have a friend like that.
Be the friend you want to have. Ride or die!
He never stopped creating
Some days I get up and go to bed without writing anything in the hours in between. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, I just lack the motivation to say it. David Bowie makes me feel guilty about that because this guy never stopped. Ever. He was always looking for something else, something new and if he couldn’t find it he just bloody made it himself.
If you haven’t watched BBC’s The Last Five Years then you should. It will definitely make you cry, but it’s so worth it to witness, in a way, how wonderfully productive Bowie was in his final years. It made me feel lazy and bit embarrassed, but it also made me write this blog, which some of you, no doubt, have stopped reading by this point.
Always be creating. Something, anything, just do it for the sheer fucking joy it brings you.
My patent pending “Bowie Cleanse”
Start small. Try it for a week and see how you feel. You can begin at the beginning, the middle or, if you’re really hardcore, from the end of his life’s work. Choose at least three albums from that period and listen to them anytime you have the desire to listen to music and see what happens. If you hate it, that’s OK, but why do you hate it? Try working through it and you may end up loving the album, as I did with Station to Station or you may decide to burn the album and never revisit it. Fair enough.
“But what about the gym?” I hear you say. I discovered that Blackstar is actually an epic album to workout to, so give that a bash. Scary Monsters, Ziggy and Aladdin Sane also work. But you do you. I hope to speak to some of you who try the cleanse and see what you think. I know I certainly uncovered a lot in Bowie’s work that I had overlooked before. That I found comfort in some songs and others were too hard to listen to. But I enjoyed the experience and hope you do too.
Happy birthday, David Bowie. You are so very missed.