Strange when someone like Bowie dies. It takes a while for it to sink in – not just the news, the raw fact of his death, but the significance of his work to the culture as a whole and indeed personally. I mean I always considered him to be a major figure, but the coverage of his death around the world has shown that his cultural significance extended way beyond whatever importance I might have attached to him as a musical innovator, writer/performer/producer, unwitting soundtracker to significant parts of my life. And maybe that was one of his great skills – despite the theatricality and the make-up sheen, whatever he was up to seemed to be directed at you (or at least the narcissistic bit of you that could believe that).
Or maybe that’s just me. I was nowt but a nipper, after all, when I saw what we’d now call the video for ‘Space Oddity’ on the telly and, drenched in the enthusiasm for the Apollo space missions, the line ‘Ground Control to Major Tom’ couldn’t help but grab the attention of a kid who’d stayed up to watch the moon landing and who also happened to be called Tom.
Cut to teenage years and, already hooked up to Bowie by the older kids with glam-trews and copies of ‘Ziggy Stardust ...’ and the even older kids with proto-beards and copies of ‘Hunky Dory’, there’s the rumour that the market square in the opening line of ‘Five Years’ is the very one I’ve been studiously hanging around in an ex-BOAC official issue mac. Bowie, no less, has written a song about Aylesbury Market Square. OK, it’s about the imminent death of the planet, but it’s still Aylesbury Market Square. The people crying/dying are, like, my parents and stuff. What’s more, he’s been a regular at Friars, the club we’ve been sneaking into for the last few years, borrowing other people’s birth dates so we can answer the ‘Are you 16?’ question with impunity or, at least, sheer gall. Our generation was too late for him, though. He was off in Berlin by that stage – though he probably turned up for some of the Iggy Pop gigs we got into (or so we’d like to believe – who was that bloke in the long overcoat and the bleached hair?). Not surprising, perhaps, that Friars is leading the charge to have a statue of him put up in that very market square.
Near-misses aside, two other things have come to mind since Monday morning. That I probably wouldn’t have read William S Burroughs without having heard ‘Life on Mars’ (because of the cut-ups) and I probably wouldn’t have spent the last 10 years writing about eastern Europe without having heard ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘The Lodger’ (or known about all that the ‘Berlin trilogy’ entailed).
And I just thought he was a bloke whose records I bought.