I wrote this almost a year ago today. Sometimes I just write for the hell of it. My brain never seems to slow and sometimes I just feel I have to in order to calm down. Kind of like going for a walk or a run on a gut full of nervous energy, it helps me reconcile things in my own mind. A diary, a journal, whatever – give it a name, writing helps me make sense of the world. So over time I’ve compiled a memory stick full of word documents with little scratchings like these, mostly with no real intention to ever share them, but after listening to ABC radio this afternoon I was inspired to throw this out there. After all, this is my blog to publish as I please right? I’m certainly no author and despite appearances, those that are close to me know how hard I critique myself and just how lacking in confidence I really am, but as that confidence grows I might just share a few more of these pages. I will also preface by saying that in the wake of 2016, my views on social media memorials have somewhat changed since putting this down. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, Prince and Sharon Jones hit particularly hard while on the 2nd of January this year the passing of Auriel Andrew touched me in a way that is almost too hard to explain, so I guess I can only really use this as a testament to the power of David Bowie for changing a blokes perspective on the world.
It would almost be impossible to be born or have lived through the past 40 years on planet Earth and not had a Bowie song play soundtrack to at least one small part of your life. His DNA is tattooed deep into popular culture. Like most kids my age, I was introduced via Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth.’ A perpetually rented VHS tape, laced with dust and static was picked from a shelf in the kids section of our local video store some time in the late 80’s, and like most movies in our house, was watched over and over again until the week was up and the tape had to be returned.
I don’t really ever recall mum or dad championing The Starman’s records and while for me he was never up there with some of the other ‘classic rock’ I got into growing up ala Sabbath, Led Zep, Stones or The Beatles, he has just kind of always hung around. Be it Jareth The Goblin King, Nirvana’s cover of The Man Who Sold The World, a random song gluing a Rage Guest Programmer’s set together or an appearance in Zoolander, David Bowie has just been an undeniable constant in modern popular culture.
In the last 10 years I’ve started getting back into collecting records. Hard. I started to spot two dollar LPs in bargain bins at local fairs and op shops and Lets Dance, Young Americans and Hunky Dory etc etc started to find there way into my white Ikea Expedit shelving. Suddenly the songs that I had always known started surfacing in a new light like flecks of gold in a prospectors pan. When I started Djing, I’d seek out more and more 7 inch records to play. Even though I generally air in classic funk and soul and golden era hip hop, Bowie’s songs never seem out of place and always go over well, no matter where they drop in a set. His songs have been staples throughout our circles’ backyard party playlists and mix tapes, playing common denominator to punk and disco, but still I only ever felt as if I was casually flirting with the guy. I dug it, he seemed like a decent human and that was about it.
On the afternoon of Monday 11th January 2016, I, together with Brad, Mark and Mat of Newcastle hardcore band Hurt Unit and my business partner, Ryan leant against the cars at the front of our little rehearsal studio in Carrington drinking XXXX Gold tins trying to cool ourselves from the thirty something degree day we’d found ourselves in. Brad in particular, who’d only just arrived back in the country the previous day from a sub zero temperature snowboarding trip to the U.S. was struggling to reacclimatise.
Mark is flicking through his phone when the news of David Bowie’s death and tributes start flowing through and proceeds to fill the rest of us in.
We all stood there and took the piss out of the mushroom like band wagoneers racing to post to socials first. We joked at the lame trend of Facebook and Twitter memorials that now congregate in the wake of a celebrities death. Heck, in the last few months we’d seen a few. Lemmy, Stevie Wright and Scott Weiland. We made gest that Rob McCalister, guitarist of US band Iron Chic who had passed earlier that day would be considered the next Darby Crash, the Adam Ant obsessed frontman of LA punk band The Germs who had died the same day as John Lennon and slipped into the back pages unnoticed.
How is it that someone could have such an intimate connection to someone so far removed from them? I mean, I am a kid who worshiped at the altar of Scott Weiland and the Stone Temple Pilots through my teens and well into my twenties, yet when receiving and processing the news of his death and revisiting the anthems of the earlier albums like ‘Plush,’ ‘Dead & Bloated’ and ‘Interstate Love Song,’ I hardly felt a thing. Perhaps because Scott had been such a train wreck for so many years we were all just waiting for him to fall off his perch.
Same deal with Dimebag Darrel or Layne Staley. I had scrawled ‘Pantera’ and ‘Alice In Chains’ with black permanent texta into every pencil case or foolscap folder I ever owned through high school and can still to this day recite complete albums of lyrics. These were songs that found me when I first started to realise that music was going to be the most important part of my life. Some of the first songs I ever learned to play on the guitar and songs that I still regularly cover on the couch at home, at parties and on stage and yet on hearing the news, the needle barely moved.
Sure it’s sad. Absolutely it’s appropriate to take a minute to reflect on the character and his or her body of work, but reading the onslaught of seemingly cheap and cheesy, copy and pasted tributes I can’t help but scratch at my skin. I just can’t buy into the personal drama fans inject into a musician’s death… Can’t or Couldn’t?
The next day at work I know the news is going to be hot topic. I share a cubicle with Ellen, an English expat who I know is a massive fan as we’d had plenty of conversations praising the Bowie discography over our time working together. When she is a few minutes past her usual start, I joke with another co worker across the way that she’d be calling in sick, taking a day of mourning. She eventually arrives and is obviously quite moved by the whole thing, but we share a little appreciation and get on with our day.
10:58 rolls around and like almost every day at work, I make sure I’m at my desk with my headphones in and the Double J radio app open, settling in for Myf’s lunchtime show at 11 and anticipating it to be dominated by David Bowie tributes. I’m starting to get a little tired of it by now, but for Myf I’ll excuse it.
The broadcast opens without the usual intro, instead replaced with a montage of Bowie’s back catalogue and a voice over from Francis Leach. Myf proceeds to open up with a short, calm, and in hindsight nearly smug introduction, as if knowing exactly what was about to happen to me and presses play on the first track.
Derrrr Nerrrr na na na na na naaa. Rebel Rebel….
My lips start quivering and I feel the top sink up into my nose. I squint my eye lids together chanting under my breath, don’t you start… Don’t you start,’ but its too late. I’m gone. I turn around to see my co worker with her ear buds in looking at me doing exactly the same thing before we both quickly look away and bury our heads into the flat screens of our PCs, ducking down behind the petitions of our desks, trying to pull ourselves together before someone else in the office notices we are both reduced to tears and have to explain why ‘Rebel Rebel’ would be the cause of that, knowing that the others probably wouldn’t get it.
In that moment, it all just ran at me. I’d played this song at weddings and seen the twenty something year old daughter grab her father by the hand and flock to the floor and dance, both in each others eyes smiling together. This song that I’d danced around the lounge room and belted out on road trips together with my partner Mel on so many occasions. This song, in the background of so many good times.
As Myf’s greatest hits playlist rolled on, only a horrible, soulless, no shadow casting creature could’ve held themselves back from falling into an abyss of evangelistic, Baptist Church-like rock and roll nostalgia. I had a distinct memory for just about every song, all of them happy or melancholic.
Not twelve months earlier, I had been playing a set at Newcastle restaurant and bar The Edwards. The place was pretty tired and it was looking like it was going to be an early one. For shits and giggles I slip a sneaky little Lets Dance into the mix. Boom! Within seconds one person is up on a table, then another and another until the whole place is losing their minds. Ladies and gents, late teens to sixty somethings. Just like that the fire is ignited and we have a bender on our hands. The memory so vivid, the soundtrack so distinct. And this, in a nutshell my friends is the undeniable power of David Bowie.
The jury is still out on the credibility of the mushroom popping social posts, but may The Thin White Duke, The Patron Saint of fashion, the chairman of classy and cool, Mr David Bowie ascend into the heavens and take his place on the runway in the sky.