Remembering Bowie

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Steve Sutherland
Steve Sutherland

“Dad, David Bowie’s dead!” This was my daughter Molly at 7.15am on Monday morning. She came into the kitchen, nearly in tears. She’s 15 by the way.

I guess the reason I’ve been asked to write this is because I happened to meet and converse with David Bowie on half a dozen occasions back in the day when I was working as a journalist for the now defunct weekly music paper Melody Maker and then, a bit later, editing NME.

I can’t claim that I knew him that well or anything but Facebook’s full of folks telling their own “I once shared a cab with David Bowie” stories, so these are mine.

The first time I met him was in Canada in the early 1980s. He was kicking off what, at the time, was going to be his last Greatest Hits tour. I found him backstage and immediately flicked him a V sign, an intuitive reaction to him pointing a small video camera at me.

He grinned and kept on filming. I remember he still had fairly dodgy teeth at this point. Anyway, this was when video cameras were pretty new on the market and what I remember most from our encounter was his enthusiasm for this novelty contraption. Couldn’t put it down. Just filmed everything, like a little kid at Christmas with a brand new toy.

I wonder if somewhere in the Bowie vaults there’s footage of me flicking him the Vs?

What else? When he stood up, he was tiny but perfectly formed, like a dancer. Oh, and he liked Prince, a lot. On another occasion I accompanied him on a small tour bus across Europe while he was being part of Tin Machine, one of his least critically-admired incarnations. Again he was good fun. He was interesting and also — and this is rare amongst pop stars who are used to getting lots of attention — ‘interested in’ what you had to say. You didn’t do an interview with David Bowie, you had a conversation.

Strangely I remember that he talked passionately about the Dave Clark 5 and about how, back in the 60s when he was just starting out, they ran some kind of Tottenham mafia which made it hard for him to get gigs. Also he said he liked The Pixies, a lot.

When Tin Machine’s tour reached the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town, North London, I was hanging out at the drinks bash afterwards when he entered the room, bounded straight across to me and, in a state of great excitement, proceeded to explain how the building we were standing in was erected with Blackshirt money donated by the loathsome British Nazi, Oswald Mosely.

He then turned to the girl standing next to me and, effusively admiring her hat, wished to know where she’d bought it. That was Bowie, always madly inquisitive about loads of stuff.

As I said, Tin Machine was hardly high on anyone’s list of Bowie’s greatest achievements. Inspired by a crazy desire to subjugate his superstar persona to the democracy of a no-frills, hard-working club band, Bowie was at a weird point in his career even for him. In short, it looked as if he could do with some help. Now, knowing his reputation as a magpie, scarfing up other people’s ideas, sprinkling some fairy dust on them and then successfully representing them as his own, I figured Dave might benefit from an earful of some new stuff, so duly made him a cassette.

The tracklisting went something like Lush, Moose, Chapterhouse, Adorable , Slowdive, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Telescopes, Ride — a veritable who’s who of shoegazers making a name for themselves at the time and a line-up I felt sure would top-up Dave’s creative juices.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be! A few weeks after I sent him said tape, I received a very nicely wrapped package which contained a small broken-up jigsaw of Michelangelo’s David. When the pieces were all put in place, there was a message handwritten on the back in, if I recall correctly, green ink, the gist of which went something like, “Thanks for the lovely tape. Not really my cup of tea. Try this instead.” The “this” was a cassette tape of Different Trains, an interminable modern classical piece by avant-garde composer Steve Reich performed by the dreaded Kronos Quartet. Shudder.

The jigsaw’s in the attic somewhere. Guess I’d better dig it out.

My last encounter with Mr Bowie was not long after I took over editing NME. All the staff hated me for reasons we needn’t go into here but I figured — rightly as it turned out — that if I could deliver a journalistic coup, they might come around.

So what I did was arrange for David Bowie to meet Brett Anderson from Suede, who were then the hottest band in Britain. I sat in on and taped their conversation with Brett, being a big fan, asking tons of questions and Bowie, being Bowie, offering up sage avuncular advice about not doing too many drugs like he once did etc.

Again, a fun day made easy by Bowie’s polite and gracious ease in company, and his genuine interest in what Brett had to say.

Confession time: I was always a David Bowie fan — I recall, like so many others, his legendary, game-changing Starman performance on Top Of The Pops — but he was never my Main Man. Until recently. For some wonderful reason, about a year ago Molly got into Bowie big time. Learning the guitar riff to Rebel Rebel lit some kind of fire and since then she’s foraged car boot sales and charity shops for Bowie vinyl which we play each and every day, making new, such amazingly mind-boggling discoveries.

For her 15th birthday she got a framed poster of the 2013 V&A David Bowie Is Here exhibition, bought off the mod bloke with the cool shop in Shipston, and just this weekend we liberated a copy of Lodger for a fiver from the Stratford Oxfam shop.

“Dad, David Bowie’s dead!” The look on Molly’s face brought back just how I felt when I was at school and Jimi Hendrix died. Inexplicable loss and the realisation that no-one, no matter how great, cheats death and lives forever.

Except… Molly’s love of Ziggy, The Thin White Duke and all his other inspirational incarnations has affected — infected!? — me with a new-found appreciation of Bowie’s genius.

And, if that means anything, it surely proves that, even if he may now be gone, his work is still very much alive and most likely always will be while we continue to breed our own little spiders from Mars. So, David Bowie RIP — immortal after all.

  • IvanKaramasov

    Great read. Thanks.

  • Clark Gwent

    What a load of pwp

  • TheTrueforeigner

    ..these guys were really dumb and ignorant in the 70s/80s…guess the consequence is you end up writing pure shit…