My first copies of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Hunky Dory came from a record fair held in a large hall at The University of Liverpool in 1995. I remember that well.
I first really heard David Bowie when I was 18 years old. I had just started university and was studying medicine in Liverpool. This was 1995 and the CD was truly king. Bowie had still been releasing albums but they were not as well received as everyone would have liked them to be. The single Hello Spaceboy had recently charted but it hadn’t pushed my buttons. I remembered Dancing in the Street with Mick Jagger when I was wee boy. I hadn’t been impressed. Maybe it was Mick Jagger: Mick has always seemed a bit far-fetched to me; even as a young lad.
I’d been introduced to The Stooges when I was 16 by a friend who was working his way through one of those MOJO “100 greatest albums ever” lists. I loved that stuff. Raw Power was what it was all about. Bowie “That fucking carrot top ruined my album” said Iggy. But he’d helped the Stooges and Lou Reed… There must be something I was missing.
Having been born in September 1977 (in between the deaths of Marc Bolan and Elvis Presley a few days after Iggy’s Lust For Life was released) I completely missed the glam rock heyday. Growing up, you could see there were a few punk stragglers and a few mods that you were told to avoid in case they would beat you up but there wasn’t a scene of any sort in my home town. I’d like to have seen what a town like Peterhead made of the gender bending alien of glam period Bowie.
My teen era belonged to Nirvana and I was aware of The Man Who Sold the World as one of my favourite tracks from the live Nirvana Unplugged album. “This is a David Bowie song” said Kurt. Wow, that’s so good! I thought. I bought the guitar tablature and tried to learn how to play it.
At University, living in halls of residence you kind of make friends with everyone until you find your group. There was a guy that had won the karaoke competition who lived in the same block as a friend of mine. He took a while to get ready… One time we went to his room to wait for him to get his stuff together. It was halls but his room was much better than ours, it was lovely. A sheepskin rug on the floor. Very tidy for an 18 year old student. Well, very tidy for anyone. A well kept plant for a bit of greenery. Some throws on the bed. A paperback Sartre splayed open on a rustic bedside table. And a record player. No-one had a record player, certainly not 18 year old students. This was very exotic indeed. In hindsight, I think what he had constructed was basically a shag pad designed to impress. It certainly made a lasting impression on me.
Anyway, he put on a record while we were waiting and disappeared somewhere.
The record he had chosen was David Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold the World. When it got to the title track, my head exploded. I recognised the song of course, but this version as so much better. My heart screamed “This is the best song I’ve ever heard!” The production was brilliant! The stereo sound flitting between speakers fried my little brains. The vocals REALLY messed with my head. The fantastically weird lyrics. The fuzzy guitar sound. That riff! And the up and down chorus riff on the bass strings. The freaky solo. The long outro. The deep voice that comes in and gets louder and groans the song to a conclusion as the music gets more quiet and slowly fades out. The world is sold to a man on the stair. Oops says Bowie. It was me. I did it.
So I picked up a Best of Bowie CD which is a pretty good place for anyone to start with Bowie. Then I blew the rest of my student loan on a turntable, amp and speakers and I began buying records. -Starting with his.
It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that David Bowie is indirectly responsible for the VoxBox shop existing (And, I may add the new slope that has developed in my upstairs record room’s floor). I always get a little joy when his records come in in a second-hand collection. I think, wow! Some people are going to be in for a real treat with these. I wonder who they will be?
So I was terribly saddened this morning to hear of his passing. There have been rumours of Bowie having cancer for years that I never believed, but this has still come as some surprise. I just heard Tony Visconti on the radio saying that David had known he was dying when making the new album. The timing of the new release in a way being a last act of performance art. But no “look at me” fuss made by him.
So thank you David. In an industry where you are lucky to have 5 years, you have been an inspiration for so many different reasons, to so many millions for so much longer than that and even helped to make so many of us feel like heroes along the way.
And that is such a beautiful thing.
Ever the adaptor, from such a wide range of sources; the inspiration for the TMWSTW song was the poem Antigonish by Hughes Mearns.
Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away…
When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…
Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…