29 Oct

Listen to the intro:

So relaxed these days. I saw him. Once. I stayed out all night in the Queen St Mall with the bass player to get our tickets first. It was at the end of the six-week winter you get in Brizvegas. Different rules applied. There were people from school there. People I normally didn’t talk to much. Tonight we were all outed. Closet Bowie fans at Phil Collins High.

I was in love then. Across the concrete floor under the corrugated shed-like structure that sheltered the tuck shop. If she ever realized, I doubt it. She had brown eyes and red hair. Her name was Monica. Monica was a Bowie fan. I knew that much. But she wasn’t there that night. Her best friend was, much easier to talk to. Her name was Jennifer.

Jennifer, Jenny was in my vegetable maths class. The scholastic structure of Queensland, which was designed to ensure that one’s postcode was one’s destiny, required us to study six subjects in high school’s final years. But for some reason only five counted. Veggie maths, Social Maths was all about teaching boneheads to be numerate enough to pay the rent. For us Veggie Maths was time to do what we wanted. That’s why we took it.

The teacher knew this too. That’s why she taught it. Likewise, she did what she wanted to do. This was to go outside, smoke and gossip with the other Veggie Maths teacher. Inside what people wanted to do was crap on as well. I drew, mostly. But there were quite a few people going to the concert in the class. Not necessarily fans, but interested. And so the chatter turned to Bowie; the concert, his music, whether the new stuff sucked (yes). And so on to other stuff. This was the last year of school. A few months from graduation and I made some friends I’d soon never see again.

At the concert of course, the Veggie Maths Bowie Fan Club didn’t interact at all. The Breakfast Club rule of thumb upheld. Don’t embarrass your betters in public if you want private association to continue. Bass player was okay that night. We were almost friends. Afterwards in Veggie Maths the fan club reconvened. One dude was disappointed there were too many songs from Never Let Me Down. Jenny thought he was cold. But that’s what he does, I replied, he’s the Thin White Duke: Flashing no colour; tall in his room overlooking the ocean.

Keith Richards thinks Bowie’s all about the image, not about the music. Contrived. Well Richards hasn’t liked anything since 1966 except perhaps Amy Winehouse. But he has a point. Bowie came of age in the 60s. He started recording very young and went for years, all thru the fabulous London of that decade without really getting his sound. Without a hit. A lot of his tastes were unfashionable. He liked the British dance hall tradition. He liked jazz. He still thought suits were cool.

It was only after Altamont, after the euphoria broke on the shore, after things got dark again that he found his place. The 70s underground was a kick against the hippie ethos required all thru the 1960s. This backlash against optimism, against the hypocrisy of the hippie era started in New York in the elitist circles you might find at Max’s Kansas City and in London. During his brief hippie/folk phase he wrote the following counter-point to that era’s relentless optimism:

Where money stood
We planted seeds of rebirth
And stabbed the backs of fathers
Sons of dirt

Infiltrated business cesspools
Hating through Our sleeves
Yea, and We slit the Catholic throat
Stoned the poor on slogans such as

Wish You Could Hear
Love Is All We Need
Kick Out The Jams
Kick Out Your Mother
Cut Up Your Friend
Screw Up Your Brother or He’ll Get You In the End

And We Know the Flag of Love is from Above
And We Can Force You to Be Free
And We Can Force You to Believe

“Cygnet Committee”
David Bowie: Space Oddity, 1969

You start out thinking all you need is love and that the victory of flower power is inevitable but then the tanks and the guns and the grey men on TV come back and demonstrate otherwise. The hairy faces turn angry, the naked girls find themselves violated, the knives come out; beautiful people are as ugly as everyone else after all. If the Beatles were the minstrels of the age of Aquarius and the Rolling Stones heralded revolution Bowie provided the soundtrack to disillusion. Foretelling the punk-rock strategy “The Cygnet Committee” insults its own useless generation but concludes: “I want to believe there’s a light shining thru somehow”

Bowie’s angst-ridden soaring melodies, surreal cut-up lyrics and strange clashes of sound and theatre ruled the ‘serious’ pop music of the 1980s the way the Stones and the Beatles had dominated the 70s. As with the way of all decadence it didn’t last. Rolling Stone magazine’s spurious top one hundred albums list from the late 80s features several Bowie albums, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust coming in at #4, a few years back a similar list saw that album greatly demoted and the rest disappeared altogether. Fickle innit?

Me too. I went off Bowie after that. I enjoyed the concert more than most of ’em who knew only his stuff from Let’s Dance on. They weren’t all that fussed when he played “Time” or “White Light, White Heat”. They had no idea who the Velvet Underground were. They’d never heard of Iggy Pop. Didn’t know the history. I did which made the over-produced, underfelt schlock on Tonight and Never Let Me Down all the more disappointing. Something petered away and died after that. It was the terminus, the first of many in life. The death of the idol.

Eventually you return to the music you thought you dug in the days of brown coats and Nietzsche and it’s only then that you sort out the true loves from the mere infatuations. There’s a lot of stuff I listened to in those days that embarrasses me now. All that over-arty, synth-ridden, fake misery that swamped an era and’s been recycled lately along with John Hughes films and Ray Bans Wayfarers. But records like ‘Heroes’ and Scary Monsters and Super-Creeps I’ve returned to like old friends. I know every note and every word. I can hear things I didn’t before, embossed by experience like new lines on a long-familiar face seen for the first time since forever.


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