David Bowie: A personal memory

Julie told me this morning that David Bowie had died. I didn’t even know he had been ill.

He was five years older than me, and his music and acting had been a part of my life since 1967, when I first heard the rather silly song, ‘The Laughing Gnome.’ He popped back briefly, with the hit song ‘Space Oddity’, before disappearing for a while once again.

When I next heard from him, I was 18, and along came ‘The Man Who Sold The World.’ His style had changed, something that would happen many times during a long career. The following year saw the release of the amazing album, ‘Hunky Dory.’ I played this almost to the point of wearing it out, overwhelmed by the talent displayed, and the freshness of the songs. Forty-five years later, I could play it again, and still listen with the same amazement.

Then came ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ Another change, another different look. Androgynous, setting trends, and some incredible songs too. It was obvious that this man was no flash in the pan. He was going to last.
You couldn’t get fed up with him, he made sure of that. Just when you thought you had seen enough, something else came along, and your interested was immediately re-kindled. After the so-called Glam Rock years, he reappeared as a sharp-suited-super-cool guy, with a jazzy feel, and more new musical influences. In between, he starred in the strange sci-fi film, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, and his fans realised that he could really act as well. Embracing the age of pop videos, those accompanying his songs were often small masterpieces themselves, adding to the song, rather than detracting from it.

By the time the great album ‘Tonight’ was released, in 1984, I was thirty-two years old, and owned every record he had ever made. I continued to like him as a person too, a rarity in the world of the pop star. He came across as a nice guy in interviews, never assumed an American accent like so many others, and retained his European persona, eventually living in Berlin for some time. The year before that, he had given another memorable film performance in the POW film, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.’

I had seen him in concert, making a rare trip to Wembley to watch a thrilling showman in action. I once stood next to him at a film premiere, surprised by how big he seemed in real life, and amazed by his full Ziggy get-up, with the shining disc on his forehead. But it was his music that held me. The albums, the changes of style, the unique songs, all marking the decades of my life over the years. It is often said of actors and music artists that, ‘we will never see another like them.’

In his case, that is actually true. R.I.P. David Jones. 1947-2016

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44 thoughts on “David Bowie: A personal memory

  1. Thanks for this great tribute, Pete. I was a huge fan of David Bowie, saw him in concert and at a stage I had all his records, it was a must to rush and get the latest. One day, some 15 years ago, I gave away all the records to charity. Did you keep yours? They are worth a small fortune today.
    Hope you have a great evening, take care out there!
    Best wishes,
    Dina

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  2. Yes, I think he decided to keep it quiet. It reminded me of his father who only survived about 13 months from his diagnosis. (The first anniversary of his death is later this week).

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  3. I think the only film I have on DVD in which David Bowie appears is “The Hunger” (also starring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon). The first time I ever saw him act was in the film “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which I saw at a movie theater. I’ve never been that familiar with his music, although a quick glance at his filmography provided at imdb.com reveals that I’ve heard him perform music in many films. Of course, I’m very familiar with “Fame,” as that song was immensely popular back in the day. Apparently, David Bowie was always a gentleman, and highly respected by all. Although I’m not nearly as familiar with him as you are, I still was saddened by the morning news report.

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  4. Thanks for sharing Pete, you were so lucky to be so close to him! I was in shock, they managed to keep the fact that he was sick out of the public eye, which is no mean feat in these social media days. A true legend, I’m so glad to have heard his music 🙂

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      1. I agree – I’ve read a lot of people say, “I didn’t know he was ill..” Well, why would you? It’s a very private matter and he only told his family and very close friends, as most of us would. Just because you’re famous doesn’t make everything in your life public property. But I understand it was sudden and devastating news to the public. And he would’ve been hounded by the worst branch of the media, visiting doctors and oncologists. It would’ve become a circus and the last thing someone so ill needs.

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  5. For some reason Bowie never gelled with me. I suppose he was around most when I was travelling and living abroad at a time when music was not really a part of my life. I did like Starman, but my favourite was Space Oddity which touched me somehow. The Laughing Gnome was so ridiculously funny! Although not a fan I appreciated his talent and it is a huge loss.

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    1. As I said to Sarah, we can’t all be fans, Jude. I liked the fact that despite all his dramatic ‘personas’ and somewhat affected ‘mime period’, he stayed very south London, and seemed unconcerned with success, at least outwardly. I cannot think of anyone who compares today.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

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  6. It’s really sad, he was too young to die, and yes, he died of cancer. When you are a survivor, you can’t help thinking of the worse sometimes. May he rest in peace.

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  7. It was a real shock. I keep thinking about more and more great songs he was responsible for. It’s bizarre how someone you’ve never met’s death can have such an effect on you – I suppose that’s testament to his influence and popularity. For forty plus years he was able to keep making music – of all kinds, and with all sorts of looks to accompany it – that people bought and loved and keep playing, even now. It’s a huge loss to his family, obviously, his friends, his fans, but most of all a loss to music itself. At least he’s left us a wonderful body of work we can still enjoy.
    RIP.

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  8. A lovely tribute Pete x

    I was similarly surprised by his illness, I had no idea either 😦

    Thanks for your great comments on the Amy review by the way, I’m just ploughing my way through and answering xxx

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