The Prettiest Star-a personal memoir of David Bowie

 

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‘ Didn’t know what time it was the lights were low- oh oh,

I leaned back on my radio…’

It was a normal school- evening in our house-a nice suburban house on a nice suburban street in leafy Surrey.

I was not quite 12 years old, in love with the most popular boy in school-like everybody else-in despair about my curly hair, goofy smile, freckles and the fact that nothing much ever seemed to happen in our small town.

My family were pretty ok though and life was alright…not as exciting as I would have liked…but alright.

We settled down, as was our usual pattern on a Thursday night, to watch Top of The Pops. It was July 6th, 1972.

I don’t remember the other artists that must have been on that evening, nor the DJ presenting. In fact, I don’t remember much else. Not what I was wearing, or the homework I’d been set or what my mother had cooked for tea.

I just remember the moment I first saw him.

Standing with one hip cocked, a cheery smile ( which he had all his life ) and an arm slung round the shoulders of his main wingman- Mick Ronson.

There-on our own TV, in a corner of our sitting-room, wearing an extraordinary, one-shouldered, multi-coloured catsuit, his elongated, pale  and extremely skinny body nonchalantly daring us to disapprove- stood my Hero…David Bowie.

And he was singing, and pointing down the camera lens at …me.

‘ I had to phone someone so I picked on you-hoo-hoo…’

What on earth??

I knew immediately, without a shadow of a doubt-as I always do when I truly love someone-that I would love him forever. In fact- HAD loved him forever, for I already knew him. I’d been expecting him, somehow.

My parents were watching from their respective chairs.

My Mum, who even now, in her seventies, can admire and see the point of an avant garde artist ( she likes will.i.am ) looked up with great interest, a smile spreading on her pretty face.

My Dad, however, musician though he was, looked gob-smacked and yes- slightly appalled.

This, of course, was exactly what we, as Teenagers had been waiting for: somebody, at last to shake even our liberal 60’s parents from their smug and comfortable perches, where they felt they had invented music- being the generation who’d discovered  Dylan, The Beatles and The Stones.

They’d  never seen anything like Mr Jones!

For that was his real name- David Jones.

Changed to Bowie to avoid any confusion with the singer of the same name ( well, Davy actually ) who fronted the rather anodyne Monkees.

‘Is that a woman or a man?’ My father asked.

I was entirely sure he was a man, but not like any I’d seen before.

He was singing about a Starman who was waiting in the sky, who would ‘like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.’

He blew mine.

 

The next day in school, we gathered to talk about him.

‘Did you see that guy, David Bowie on telly last night? Did you like him? I loved him! ‘

We were divided into two camps. Some people  couldn’t handle him at all, the rest of us (  a minority, these were the Seventies and Boy- Bands like The Osmonds were rife )   were in love.

So Bowie haircuts were secretly had, and bright red, razor-cut crops appeared on the most unlikely of souls.

My friend Lesley and I hugged the knowledge to ourselves that despite being quite good girls, from nice families, we had seen the light and were devoted fans, which made us somehow immediately cooler than we had been before.

I rushed out with my pocket money and spent it all in one go on my very first album: The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.

What a title!

And the cover was so fantastic too, with a louche Mr Bowie, in a padded turquoise jumpsuit ( he loved a jumpsuit ) one leg up on what looked like a box  and cradling a guitar under a sign that rather inexplicably said: K.WEST.

This beloved record remains my favourite of all time- and not just because it was my first, but for the sheer brilliance and innovation of its sounds.

I took myself off to my bedroom, told my brothers to stay out, and settled down to learn every word…for these were the days of vinyl, and the  album sleeve, complete with full lyrics-0h joy.

For someone like me, who loves words and who has them deep in her very soul, it was these lyrics – as well as the gorgeous melodies- that thrilled me to the bone.

‘ Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind.

Like a leper Messiah

When the kids had killed the man

I had to break up the band.’ ( Ziggy Stardust )

I still know every word of nearly every Bowie song- and so do all the others of us who loved him at the same time, as evidenced at the concerts I went to, where the audience were word-perfect, despite some quite tricky phrasing: ‘ I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you.’ ( Moonage Daydream )

‘ Jung the foreman prayed at work, that neither hands nor limbs would burst.’ ( Drive-In Saturday )

You see, we didn’t have phones or the Internet. There were only 3 TV channels and we had no money to spend on very much, we were so young. There was nothing much to buy anyway.

These were the 70’s- dark days of power- cuts, the three-day week and the miners’ strikes, and we had never had somebody before who was all ours.

Our parents had The Beatles – and we loved them too-but suddenly, amongst us, as if he really had fallen to earth ( the title of one of his future films ) was this extraordinary being who seemed to me to be filled with a light I’d never seen before, but that somehow, I had dreamt of.

For I have always believed him to be a Wonder Soul, and some kind of Divine Messenger, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that back then.

So it went on.

And I, along with so many others, waited impatiently for another album release from our Hero, as even I couldn’t play Ziggy all day and night forever…and what’s more, my family were starting to object to the same sounds coming out of my room on repeat, from my little, prized Dansette ( I loved that record-player, I don’t think another, no matter how state-of-the-art or expensive will ever take its place in my heart. )

And we were rewarded-as we always were with any new Bowie album his whole career- with more innovative genius than anyone can reasonably expect in their lifetime.

‘Aladdin Sane’ was the brilliant title ( break the words down if you don’t know how clever ) of the second album I shot out to purchase.

Some of my very favourite tracks are on there- ‘ Drive-In Saturday ‘ ‘ The Prettiest Star’ ‘ Lady Grinning Soul’ with quite incredible piano by the unbelievably gifted Mike Garson, David’s long-time collaborator and friend.

(NB : Mike has a Facebook page , Mike Garson Official, where he is posting the most wonderful tributes and performances. Those of you who love David Bowie, check it out.)

And that instantly iconic, and now famous, cover of David with those white, white shoulders, that red, red hair and the orange and blue lightning bolt across his beautifully chiselled cheekbones.

For he was SO beautiful! Make no mistake about that.

More beautiful than most women or men have a right to be, and I believe it was this outrageous beauty that contributed to the  sense of shock he gave, and why he always troubled people who didn’t ‘get’ him.

Only last week, discussing his sudden death, a male friend told me he had never really liked Bowie as he was growing up because his androgynous beauty gave him a slightly uncomfortable feeling…was he a man or a woman? ( the same comment my Dad had made. )

For me, the shock of the beauty- and the androgyny- was a huge part of what I enjoyed so much about him. That was the whole point; to make people feel uncomfortable, wake them up, shake them out of their dull suburban stupor.

Only the very bravest among us are prepared to do that, have the talent to do that.

And as I grew up and changed, David changed with me. Ch-ch-ch-Changes.

Always just one step ahead, not quite a whole generation , but older than me by enough years to make him seem more adult.

His Berlin years-producing three of his finest albums in my opinion-were another milestone, coming at the same time as the fall of The Berlin Wall…no such thing as a coincidence that he was there for a major historic event that removed a barrier between people.He was all about breaking down barriers.

A message posted on the German Foreign office’s official Twitter account after his death read simply: ‘ Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among Heroes.( a reference to his eponymous album ) Thank you for helping to bring down the wall.

One of David’s most outstanding characteristics, and the trait I admire the most in any human, was his courage to be himself, in all his many forms.

Always evolving and changing ( ‘ turn and face the strange,’- Changes )

he had the fierce kind of intellect that refused to settle for anything mediocre, or less than he could be.

He explored the avenues that are often far too frightening for many of us, whether they were his sexuality, his struggles with addiction or his quest for answers in the spiritual realm.

For David Jones was a deeply spiritual man, a man who I believe had been here many times before and who was on his Master Lifetime.

Is it any wonder he sometimes felt so lost and alien? Like any truly Cosmic and sensitive soul, he often found it unbearably painful to live here on earth and witness what humans do to each other ( ‘ take a look at the lawman, beating up the wrong guy’ – Life On Mars ).

He was sent here to help us heal, and heal us he did, through his wonderful, wonderful music.

Lucky indeed are we who grew up and were alive at the same time as him- and that is no coincidence either!

If there is a song from this period that sums up his quest for me, it is the sublime and heart-rendingly beautiful, ‘ Word On A Wing’.

From the album ‘ Station to Station’, a masterpiece of drama, emotion and epic accomplishment that Bowie wrote whilst battling the demon of Cocaine, to me, it is David’s most eloquent and sincere outpouring of his belief in God ( apart from his final song, Lazarus, about which, more later.)

‘ Just because I believe, don’t mean I don’t think as well, don’t have to question everything in heaven or hell.

‘ Lord, I kneel and offer you, my word on a wing. And I’m trying hard to fit among, your scheme of things.’

Please listen to this one, if you listen to nothing else… the sheer honesty.

We are all just trying hard to fit among the scheme of things, but David tried harder than most.

I think the reason I’ve loved Station to Station for nearly 40 years, and still play tracks from it most days, is the feeling I got -and get- that here was a record that came from somewhere else other than planet earth. From heaven perhaps. An uncanny album, somehow.

From David’s subconscious, or even unconscious mind, as he reported that he didn’t remember much about making it ( due to the drug abuse .)

His band’s quite astonishing musicality and range is on every single diverse track.

To listen to his stunning vocals on the haunting ‘ Wild Is The Wind,’ is to be transported to heaven for a while.

And I think that’s my 1, 2, 3 of his albums right there : Ziggy, Aladdin Sane and Station to Station…if I had to choose.

 

‘ I heard the news today, oh boy.’ ( Young Americans )

This part of my tribute- and I realise this is a long post, the longest yet- has taken me a month to be able to write and is the hardest of all.

I was in America at the time, with some Young Americans of my own…( Lovely Marley and my eldest son, Rob…not American, but living there )

Fitting really, as so was he, having made New York his home a long time ago, though he was a London lad, and one of  our very own to start with.

I woke up in Rob and Marley’s house at 8am, Florida – time and turned on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. It was 1pm in London.

No.

That wasn’t right. My eyes and brain were deceiving me.It could not be. It was impossible.

 

Two days before, on January 8th, I had posted the image, from The Huffington Post, that is featured at the top of this  blog, on my own Facebook page.

I had written that I couldn’t believe my life-long Hero, David Bowie, was 69.

I had commented also on the release of his new album, Blackstar, and how, I couldn’t imagine that it could possibly be his Masterpiece, as in my view, that had happened a long, long time ago with Ziggy.

Two days later, on 10th January 2016, he had gone from us.

I sat in bed, the tears streaming down my face and let out a cry that seemed to come from my deepest, darkest place.

I wandered through to get some tea,  in a trance.

Rob saw me.

‘ Bowie? ‘ he said simply, and put his arms around me.

For anyone who really knows and loves me, knew how much I loved the man.

I’m in tears typing this.

And not everyone reading this will understand, except those of us in his Soul Family – for I know he has one.

I saw him perform many many times, but I never held a conversation with him.

And yet, the love is real, and as I well know, the price we pay for love is grief, when the loved one is gone.

For miss him, I do, and I always will.

 

‘ Are you over Bowie yet?’ A kind friend asked me last week.

‘ No,’ I replied. ‘ I never will be over him. Love isn’t like that. Love never leaves you. I will just have to  learn to adapt to life without him.’

But I so much preferred knowing David Jones was in the world with me. He made me feel so much less alone ( ‘ You’re not alone…give me your hands, you’re wonderful’ -Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide )

His leaving has made me feel older, sadder and bereft in a way that I find hard to express in words.

As I said to my three grown-up kids, I rarely say never, but in this case,  I can say with certainty that there will never be another musician like this one for me.

Someone who spoke to every side of me ; the intellectual, spiritual and musical sides, all at once. Whenever I wanted to be inspired, moved, made to think – there he was.

And yet whose music was so damn fine to dance to- and oh yes, I love to dance.

‘Let’s Dance – Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,’ ( Let’s Dance )

If you don’t want to get a groove on to Sound And Vision, then there’s really something wrong.  My dancing feet will thank him forever.

No other artist will ever, can ever, match up to him.

He affected my heart and soul with the beauty of his words and made my life immeasurably happier with his music.

The complete, most influential artist, and a humble, friendly, kind man.

In the end, that’s what counts, it’s what people remember the most.

It’s what marks out the deeply spiritual amongst us…how we know.

For the greatest people who ever live are always the most humble and ‘ ordinary.’ They know they are only fulfilling their place in the ‘ scheme of things.’ ( Word On A Wing )

A man who looked like an alien – which he had to do, to grab our attention and shake us up- yet who turned out to be one of the people to show us most completely, what it is to  be human.

And  he continues to inspire me, even now he’s gone.

 

I listened to Blackstar on the day of his death.

I was wrong on that Facebook post; it IS his Masterpiece.

‘ Look up here, I’m in heaven ‘ are the opening lyrics of the track, Lazarus.

No coincidence either that Lazarus, in the Bible story, rose from the dead.

Brother of Mary Magdalene,  raised from the dead by Jesus, because he believed. ( John 11, New International Version )

What a brave genius David Bowie was, ( how I hate using that past tense )  writing this music, rehearsing day after long day  in the studio, knowing he was dying.

Doing it all so  intensely- because he knew he was leaving. Didn’t have much time left.

In immense pain, yet still, sending final words and a message for his life, to comfort us.

His awesome courage saying  – if I can do it, so can you.

He did everything he set out to do in this lifetime, everything he promised. And more.

How many of us will be able to say the same?

 

And still, I listen to his wonderful, extraordinary music, at some point, every day.

There is a Bowie song for each variant of my mood, and even if I’m not in the mood for anything- I’m still in the mood for some Bowie.

My musical Hero with a golden heart- The Prettiest Star.

He took it all too far…but boy, could he play guitar. ( Ziggy Stardust )

 

THE SONGS :

All songs written and composed by David Bowie, except where noted.

Life On Mars

Changes

Starman

Five Years

Moonage Daydream

Ziggy Stardust

Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Drive-In Saturday

The Prettiest Star

Lady Grinning Soul

Young Americans

Station To Station

Word On A Wing

Wild Is The Wind ( Ned Washington, Dimitri Tiomkin )

Sound And Vision

Heroes ( David Bowie, Brian Eno )

Let’s Dance

Lazarus

THE ALBUMS:

The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

Aladdin Sane

Station To Station

Low

Heroes

Let’s Dance

Blackstar

FILM: The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Nicolas Roeg

Last photos of David Bowie taken by Jimmy King

 

Amanda Hills 2016, All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

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