THE BEGINNING

Daniel Dylan Wray pays personal tribute to the cultural icon who passed away on January 10, aged 69.

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There seems something remarkably ill-fitting – bordering on the insulting – about writing a traditional obituary for David Bowie. If he is to be remembered as an artist who changed the world, driven by a voracious appetite for experimentation and a ceaseless desire to explore new ground, then coughing up some regurgitated Wikipedia-based spiel seems grossly out of step with what he spent his entire life doing. The ubiquity of David Bowie as an artist and the genuine widespread sense of grief felt today serves to illustrate his importance and influence as an artist, we all know this. Even talking about Bowie as the ‘musical chameleon’ who spawned new identities and changed the world once again with each new phase, seems somehow slightly reductive – he was always an artist that managed to eclipse mere words, and that includes my own.

So, instead I’ll write something about him in the only way I know how: a brief personal remembrance of an artist who unquestionably changed my life. Bowie was 40 years my senior, I never saw him live and I’ve never really lived through what might be described as a pinnacle period in his career, yet his work has remained vital and constant throughout my life. There was something about Bowie’s constant strive for innovative and distinctive music that matches up with the insatiable hunger of a music fan: there’s always relevance to be found.

Like the man himself and the records he made, I feel like Bowie’s records define certain periods and phases of my life, each one soundtracking an identity of sorts. First there was the Bowie at the Beeb CD that seemed to be a permanent fixture in my mum’s car in my teens that triggered the initial interest; then as a late teen and early 20-something, my friends and I would scream ourselves hoarse to ‘Ziggy Stardust’, belting out ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ with such hurtling force in the early hours that our walls would pound angrily from disgruntled neighbours. I recall the beguiling bemusement and beauty of hearing ‘Station to Station’ for the first time and thinking that I was listening to a completely different artist, my mouth literally agape as I felt like a new world had just been opened up to me by the same artist. This was followed by a delve into his – and other people’s – more experimental work: there were late night parties that would go on for too long with the sound of ‘Low’’s side-one injecting some life into the jaded 10am room as the sun broke through the curtains, and then the eerie and transfixing paranoia of side two that would send everybody completely west and it would be home time – but I’d sit there and listen to it all, often on repeat, imagining what was going on in his head in Berlin. And as a DJ for some years, I never ever tired of seeing a roomful of drunken bodies screaming with complete uninhibited abandon to ‘Let’s Dance’ – something that remains an undying vision.

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The impact of Bowie’s music is an indelible force, creating timestamps or tattoos that act as personal bookmarks. His albums have documented relationships and friendships and listening experiences so powerful that you can instantly be transported to another time or place the second you hear songs from them. I recall a putridly hungover journey from Sheffield to Manchester over the beautiful road that is Snakes Pass, feeling rather fragile: ‘Heroes’ came on the car stereo and from the opening wail of Robert Fripp’s guitar to the first almost whisper-like vocal from Bowie, a surge fired up my body and, as the sun beat down heavily over the rolling, golden hills, the enormousness and power of the song seemed to synchronise with the irrepressible beauty and force of the nature in front of me – something above and beyond, almost intangible despite being immersed by both. By the time Bowie’s vocals really come in and he stretches them to that so-close-to-breaking-point-but-always controlled moment, I was physically overcome and my face streaming with tears. While it sounds like a scene from a film that I would normally scream at for its gross over sentiment and earnest bullshit, it was one of many moments in my life in which the sheer gargantuan force of David Bowie’s music would overcome me and create such ineffaceable memories.

Listening to ‘Heroes’ now is like a switch; the second it gets pushed my tear ducts fill on queue and my spine feels like it’s been given a direct injection of a bucket’s worth of serotonin. In short, there is not a period in my life from about the age of 15 that the music of David Bowie hasn’t played a major part – and I know this to be the same for people twice my age which, when you really think about it, is close to a phenomenon.

Samuel Johnson once wrote, “If you’re tired of London, then you’re tired of life” and I guess I’ve always felt the same way about the music of David Bowie because in many ways it is the essence of life: of evolving and growing and reaching new heights and undiscovered terrain – except he just did it a lot better than most other people.

After 69 years he has now stopped his journey but there is something very Bowie-like about the way he passed: a quiet, dignified and controlled death. Something that feels like it was on his terms, rather than anybody else’s, that he essentially curated and organised his own impending passing, and final album, with the same immaculate detail and conceptual approach that he would have done in the 1970s. Even in dying he still seemed one step ahead of everybody else.

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