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Vale David Bowie

I have a ... complicated relationship with the music of David Bowie. For one thing, I'm about ten years too young to remember him at his best. I was too young for Ziggy Stardust, and the one song of his that stuck with me from that period was "A Space Oddity", which to be honest, freaked me out (and still does - I mean, it's a song about a man dying in space, it's terrifying!). So the music of his I remember best is the stuff from his "Thin White Duke" period, which was, unfortunately, his period of proving (as so many people did back then) that while cocaine gives you heaps of energy and drive, it doesn't do shit for your creativity. The eighties had a lot of that, unfortunately. The few songs which stick with me from that period ("Ashes to Ashes", "Blue Jean" and "China Girl") all had the same quality of pretty much weirding me out, while I felt the video clips were a bit overly pretentious in their level of theatrics. By the time I was old enough to really be paying attention to Bowie, he'd already passed his prime and moved into "pop music icon" territory, performing duets of cover versions of sixties pop songs with Mick Jagger and so on. So I think I really missed a lot of what he was "about", so to speak.

As I got older, I could admire a lot of what he was doing in his earlier stuff from a more detached, intellectual fashion - he did some interesting things with theatricality and the concepts of theatre, gender, identity, stardom and so on. Indeed, I tend, these days, to regard a lot of his stuff as almost Brechtian - he made people question concepts which had seemed rock-solid, and showed alternative ways of looking at various ideas which hadn't been previously considered. But I wasn't "there", so to speak, and I really didn't have the same sort of connections to his work that a lot of other people did.

I can admire him as a cultural icon - he was the most successful of the "glam" rockers long-term, and his ability to re-invent his public persona was unparalleled. Indeed, his abilty to re-invent his public persona was arguably a major factor in his long-term success - by the time the public was starting to get bored with a particular persona, he'd already done so, and moved on to something else. To me, in a lot of ways, he fits in the same cultural "box" as Spike Milligan - never quite comfortable with the world as it existed, and always seeking to try and find a way of explaining the way he saw it to people who weren't him.

He was fascinating, but I never really "got" him. I'm sad he's died, but the sadness is like the admiration - detatched, impersonal, and if I'm mourning at all, it's for the loss of another cultural icon, rather than for the loss of a person. My sympathies to his family, and may they find peace.

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