When you listen to ★, death is the common thread. It is mentioned in most of the songs, and is the underlying subject in some. The album can almost be seen as a goodbye note to all of his fans. I am amazed that what turned out to be his final record yet again defied genre. There was a little bit of everything in there, from wild jazz to Gregorian chants to lyrics using Nadsat. It is quite extraordinary for an artist to continually look forward and keep reinventing themselves, influencing others all the while. How many imitators did Ziggy inspire? How many acts delved into electronica after the Berlin trilogy? How many groups followed his trail into the New Romantic period? How many people wrote off his work with Tin Machine only to then listen to the aurally similar strains of grunge a few years later? Producer Tony Visconti told Rolling Stone magazine in a recent interview that he couldn't wait to see all the ★ copycat albums. There's no doubt that it will work through the ears of artists the world over now.
David Bowie's music is special to me for another reason as well. Rhona's favourite song of all time is Ziggy Stardust, and any time comes to one of my gigs (either solo or with WGJS) I have to play it. No ifs, no buts; it must be played. He he he...and that's fine by me. I was lucky enough to perform the entire Ziggy album with WGJS for The Newport Record Club's first season in 2014. That was such a fun gig; I got be Bowie and Mick Ronson at the same time! We were invited to do it again for the Rewind series in May 2015, and that was even more fun. Learning and performing that album only increased my admiration and awe of his immense talent, and I felt some sort of connection to him.
I was always aware of Bowie when I was growing up. Let's Dance was a huge album when it came out in 1983, and I was seven years old. Ashes To Ashes still found its way onto Countdown from time to time, and the image of Bowie dressed as that clown is one of my earliest memories of a music video. I remember absolutely loving his version of Dancing In The Streets with Mick Jagger. He he he...it's seen as somewhat daggy now, but I thought it was great. I'd not heard the original version at that time either.
It wasn't until I went to Bali with my family in 1991 that I developed a real interest in his music. Now, there were no streaming services or readily available downloads back then. If you wanted music, you either bought it, listened to the radio or taped songs from the radio. Cassettes were incredibly cheap in Bali at that time and I took the opportunity to listen to some albums that I'd never heard before. One of the tapes I bought was the Bowie compilation Changesbowie, an amalgamation of Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie, which was released in 1990. I remember the TV ad campaign for the album vividly as the camera scanned across the cover while the audio was made up of a second or two of all the songs on it.
The opening track was Space Oddity, and I remember loading the tape into my little Walkman knock-off and hearing that gorgeous fade-in for the first time. The song was like nothing else I'd ever heard before, with its eerie, doom-laden narrative and lush orchestrations. I was pretty taken with the whole album and I played it to death over the following months and years. As I journeyed through life, I picked up the odd album of his here and there, and proudly became a member of the Club Who Liked Bowie After 1983. I particularly dug 1992's Black Tie White Noise and his industrial rock album Earthling from 1997.
I didn't really start seriously delving into his back catalog until I received a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars from a friend for my birthday one year. Shortly after that, Bowie announced a world tour. He would be in Australia in early 2004! I really liked his last two albums at that time, 2002's Heathen and 2003's Reality and I'd never seen him live before. Along with a small group of friends, Rhona and I decided to go over to Melbourne to see him. After we all bought our tickets, a Perth concert was announced! Ha! Our friend Kieran thought he would go to both anyway, because why not? He and I took it upon ourselves to try and buy all of Bowie's albums before the concert(s). We knew that he had hundreds of songs to draw from, and we wanted to be as familiar with as much of them as we could. On February 26th, 2004 we went to Rod Laver Arena and watched an absolutely fantastic show! I will remain forever grateful that I got the chance to see him live. You can check out the setlist here.
In July of that year, Bowie was treated for an acutely blocked artery while the tour was in Germany. Except for an appearance at a charity concert singing Changes with Alicia Keys in 2006, Bowie pretty much vanished from the public eye. It appeared that he had lost interest in music. Was he still ill? Had he retired for good? Was he working on other projects? Would he ever tour again?
As long as there's rain
As long as there's rain
As long as there's fire
As long as there's fire
As long as there's me
As long as there's you