Farewell Starman

rsz_1aladdinsane-1

There really is a starman waiting in the sky now.

David Bowie died on Sunday aged 69. He had cancer.

The news was broken on Monday morning on Bowie’s official Facebook page and confirmed by his son Duncan on Twitter.

Already, hundreds of thousands have paid their respects. Millions more around the world will continue to do so in their own way.

Flowers have been laid outside Bowie’s old apartment in Berlin; outside his home in New York; there is even a street party planned tonight just a few hundreds yards away from where Bowie grew up in Brixton.

It comes just days after his 69th birthday, on which he released his 27th studio album Blackstar, and a fortnight after we lost another rock and roll legend – Lemmy – to cancer.

Wishing absolutely no disservice to Lemmy, Bowie was more than just a rock and roll legend. Bowie was simply without parallel.

He wasn’t just ahead of his time throughout his near 50-year career, he was effortlessly ahead of his time. He was utterly unique.

Even on Blackstar, which is every bit the mysterious, challenging, thought-provoking listen you would expect from Bowie, he was still pursuing what was zeitgeist.

Taking the title track alone, the shuffling, skittish, tribal beat is evocative of Thom Yorke; the tension wrought by the fusion of gnarled samples and swirling synths of Burial and Portishead; the otherworldly lyrics of Bowie himself on Space Oddity.

The point being Bowie’s music never suffered from not being of its time. You can hear its wax and wane as the 60s psychedelia flowed into the 70s pomp, via prog and glam, 80s new wave, dance and disco, 90s alternative rock and industrial before eventually winding up somewhere distinctly avant-garde.

It’s hardly surprising when you’ve dabbled in just about everything that could be considered ‘popular music’. And I am by no means a qualified enough Bowie fan to take you through his experiments with jazz and classical music.

I write this listening to Aladdin Sane. I don’t know why I picked Aladdin Sane. I could just as easily have chosen Ziggy Stardust, or Hunky Dory, or The Man Who Sold The World.

There is something chillingly discordant about the chorus, if you can call it that, of Aladdin Sane itself. It makes my hairs stand on end. I consider myself lucky there are probably 20 Bowie albums I still have a lifetime to digest.

Bowie was the soundtrack to many a formative summer holiday – still is in fact.

I was lucky enough to enjoy 20 years of long, hot, sultry summer days in France listening to Queen Bitch, Starman, Ziggy Stardust, The Bewlay Brothers, Changes, and so on.

Like my other great passion, food, music is evocative of memories and emotions I am otherwise unable to access any other way, particularly those associated with childhood. I’m sure many others feel the same.

That’s why I have very much enjoyed digesting other people’s experiences of Bowie. The Guardian, in particular, has done a terrific job today of curating a necessary ourpouring of collective grief and mourning.

Each and every one of these stories is special to just a handful of people, many just to individuals. Scale that for the hundreds of millions of people Bowie’s music has touched across the world and you begin to understand the enormity of his contribution to music and popular culture.

His long-time collaborator and producer Tony Visconti said this today, which I feel is a particularly fitting tribute.

“His death was no different from his life – a work of art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be.

I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”

David Bowie was as much a cultural phenomenon as he was an enigma, and he remained so right to the very end. I have little doubt had he lived another 20 years we would be any the wiser.

Time takes another cigarette.