Gimme Your Hands: Musicians & tQ Writers Pay Tribute To Bowie
, January 13th, 2016 10:21
Quietus writers and musicians Stephen Morris, Gazelle Twin, Tim Burgess, Simon Fisher Turner, Graham Lewis and Jim Fry pay tribute to the late David Bowie in personal recollections of how he changed their lives
Wyndham Wallace, writer: While others lamented David Bowie's death, I reacted to the news with fury and frustration. My father had passed away just three days earlier, something that was still only sinking in. Suddenly news and social media were gushing with superlatives and sentiment, and the demise of this rare artistic genius was vying for my sorrow, a sorrow that I was desperate – but ill-prepared – to express, even for my own beloved parent. In comparison, few were talking about my father, a legend in my family's life who'd inspired many others and who fought a long-term illness with such courage and dignity that we began to believe that he, like Bowie, was immortal. How dare Bowie compete for our attention?
Resentful of what felt to me like an insensitive attempt to steal my father's thunder, but similarly unhappy that I could barely express my own sadness at Bowie's passing because – mawkish though it may be – my heart belongs to Daddy, my upper lip refused to tremble, just as it had remained stiff for the preceding days. But then, in a rare moment of solitude, I read Bowie's simple farewell to Brian Eno: "Thank you for our good times, Brian. They will never rot." The economy, dark wit and beauty of that (under)statement pierced my armour, just as his music did, just as my father's wisdom did. For the first time since I returned home, I succumbed to my grief. Tears flowed at last: for Bowie, of course, but, more importantly, for my father.
Bowie articulated the strangest things in a most universal fashion. He opened our hearts, illuminating them from the most unexpected angles. He was always of another world, and yet he felt like one of us. Now, even from beyond the grave, he released me from emotional repression, enabling me – just as he had liberated all of us so often in the past – to mourn. And I cried so much my face was wet, for I knew he was not lying: "The good times… will never rot."
Goodbye, David. Goodbye, Dad. How fortunate we were to know you.
Luke Turner, tQ co-editor: My first experience of David Bowie was singing his version of 'Dancing In The Street' (the duet with Mick Jagger recorded for Live Aid) at a church pantomime during the late 80s or early 90s. Little did I know from that inauspicious beginning that this man's music would end up shaping my entire life. It was probably youthful conservatism that stopped me from falling in love with Bowie until quite late in life; that plus inaccessibility of his music in a time before the internet. It was Erol Alkan and the wonderful, much-missed Monday night institution that was Trash that made me a convert. Every Tuesday without fail at 2:55 am, Erol would play 'Rock 'N' Roll Suicide', a record that seemed to sum up a club that had Bowie in its DNA. From that song I headed through the tried and tested route of The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars then Hunky Dory before branching out into the rest of his great mystery. One of the most perfect synergies of music and place I've ever had was driving across the heathland on the west of Jersey in the Channel Islands, a storm blowing itself ragged over the German fortifications, as the second side of Low played on the car stereo. Place and time seemed to crackle.
Bowie is and was this presence behind and between all the music that has ever changed me. Bowie's bisexuality, however veiled, made me feel not only that I was alright, but that I was part of some elite and louche club alongside him. Yet for all the talk that planet Earth was lucky to have Bowie for a while, what has always struck me as being at the core of everything he did is a pure humanity, a sense of humour, a desire to communicate. You can't be such a wonderful collaborator and change so many lives as he did by being an anally retentive arsehole from outer space. Three years ago, I was woken by BBC Radio 4's Today programme playing, completely unexpectedly, the new Bowie song 'Where Are We Now?' Even then it sounded like a farewell, and my eyes filled with tears. This morning, I learned of his death from the same programme, and have been, like many friends, devastated since. Yet the first thing I thought after the initial shock had subsided was that after this two year final act for Bowie to release one of his finest albums two days before dying was a potent way to go, arguably the most beautifully realised death music has ever seen. He never stopped being Bowie, did he?
Stephen Morris, New Order: 21st April 1972 was the day I first saw David Bowie. I remember I bought 'Starman' from a little stall by the bar, I took it home and played it over and over and over. First 'Starman' then 'Suffragette City', that got played REALLY LOUD. I went to the record shop every week - "Have you got the new David Bowie album yet?", I don't think I knew it was called Ziggy then. I got that the day it came out and played THAT over and over and over.
The thing is, it meant something to me and Bowie's music was the first that actually did seem real to me. I wanted more.
Seeing Ian's advert for a drummer for Warsaw, you could tell where that name came from straight off, You could tell that Bowie meant the same to him. We'd talk about how we both played the first side of Low on repeat before we went out and put the chilly second side on when we'd get in to wind down.
We'd seen him at the Apollo in '77 playing the keyboards for Iggy and a year later In Stoke doing a killer version of Station To Station.
Low was the record to beat though - "Can you make the drums sound like 'Sound & Vision?'" I'd asked studio engineer when we did the first EP.
Bowie was never boring, always doing something different from that last thing. I played Blackstar for the first time over the weekend and that was really fantastic. New and Fresh. I wondered what his next one would be like - I wanted more. But now there isn't any more.
Jeremy Allen, writer: It was during a heavy drugs phase at the end of the 90s that I remember children pelting me with stones on a wet afternoon in Wimbledon, and all because I was striding down the high street in silver trousers and outlandish blue eye shadow. I don't suppose I would have ever dressed like that had I not discovered David Bowie. Obviously I was always aware of him, but the time I really connected with him was whilst travelling through the French countryside in a VW with some hairy Cornish surfers in about 1992. I had command of the stereo, and it was all muddy riffage from Seattle's finest (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains et al). The driver, Rosey, slipped Hunky Dory onto the stereo, and after initial misgivings I realised where I was going wrong. On returning from France, I immediately bought that record and Ziggy Stardust, and I've been buying Bowie albums ever since. I got to see him on two occasions, once at Glastonbury - which was one of the most majestic shows of my lifetime - and once on another wet afternoon at Old Trafford Cricket Ground. Dave looked in rude health, and I remember turning to my friend - Suede biographer David Barnett - and saying rather vainly, "I hope I look as good as that when I'm his age". David turned to me and said, "I wish I looked as good as that now". My David was looking good, but he definitely had a point.
Gazelle Twin, musician: One of his quotes doing the rounds this week included the remark: "I felt very puny as a human." This really struck me - such a simple idea that seems like the core of everything he created as this part-woman, part-man, part-alien, part-god.
Even in his total extravagant weirdness - all hips, elbows, knees and pointy teeth - he made game-changing statements about sexuality, identity, politics, art, all of which are still crushingly vital today, maybe more than ever.
Honestly, I've never fully recognised how Bowie has shaped my own approach to performance and identity before. It wasn't until today when I pored through the back catalogue, the interviews, the lyrics, the TV performances, that it occurred to me just how deep his influence goes. It's as if it has always been there, like a gene in the blood of modern culture that will go on forever - the "Bowie gene". How can we think of him as anything but superhuman?
Russell Cuzner, writer: David Bowie's most alluring of music, lyrics, styles and stances formed for me a memetic spinal cord through which cultural signals I could have easily overlooked or underappreciated were faithfully received and devoured.
At the age of ten, my previous disposition for science fiction soundtracks was expanded (and ultimately dispersed) by 'Space Oddity', 'Life On Mars', 'Starman' and 'Ashes To Ashes'. The subsequent burrowing through the many layers of each LP in his back catalogue made clear the creative and seductive powers of a real rock & roll star, while opening doors onto so many other crucial areas: pop art, performance art and transgression, the sounds of garage rock, funk, soul and kosmische music, the social stigmas of flirting with fascism, bisexuality and recreational drugs, and the alt. philosophies of Orwell, Burroughs and Crowley.
The incredible quantity of hindsights effortlessly coming to mind that I now realise were initiated by Bowie and his music are testament to the deep and extraordinarily long-standing impact of his art. For many others, I'm sure, the sad news of his passing has triggered similar surges of personal retrospection. For the great many of us he affected in this way, David Bowie will always be the man who changed our world.
Ned Raggett, writer: It reminds me of nothing so much as the departure of Charles Schulz, almost exactly 16 years ago. Different circumstances happened there, of course - Schulz was starting to feel his health slip, but he said so in public, retired Peanuts and then the night before his final strip ever, his farewell to his readers, he passed away in his sleep. The man and his great work left together. And no lie: I was a blasted wreck of misery for some days, but at least the world was with me, not alone.
A play in New York, a new album, testing himself once again on his terms, for reasons even clearer now, and a birthday where, in public, it was all good feelings, earnest happiness and pleasure, thoughtful retrospection from so many of us just two days ago. Who can say if he even knew at that point what was happening; perhaps he was already going. I hope he was aware, just enough, to sense the love and the awe.
You're not alone. Give me your hands.
Tim Burgess, The Charlatans: Maybe it'll turn out to be true one day, but it always seemed like David Bowie had a time machine - he zipped a few years forward every so often, had a look round and then travelled back to let us regular folk know what the future held in store. If you were an outsider, a cross-dresser, a freak or you just somehow didn't fit in, Bowie put himself out there and was on TV being more outsider-y freaky - he let everyone know that it was not only okay, but should be encouraged. We merely live our lives, he kind of curated his. But that was only one side to him, the one he let us see - he didn't give his life over to art, it was something he did so brilliantly and so naturally - he was still a family man and a fellow human.
David Stubbs, writer: As an 80s journo, I would rip the piss out of Bowie something rotten. Those were, after all, the days of the Glass Spider tour, of Tin Machine, in which he still seemed to be trying to catch the avant garde spirit of the day but increasingly losing his grasp. Part of me also held that he was overrated because he was someone who absorbed and pop-ified the true innovations of others (Suicide, Lou Reed, Iggy, Kraftwerk, New York Dolls, Curtis Mayfield, whoever).
I later came to realise that that was the point, and the genius of Bowie; that his gifts were actually traditional in some ways, those of a brilliant pop/rock craftsman, whose songs were sturdy and expertly carpented, for all their magic dust. His earlier career suggested he could have settled into the role of a modern troubadour a la Tim Buckley, except that he was more restless and ambitious than that. Without a Bowie to synthesise them, the shape-shifts and mutations of the 70s, ranging from Glam to late 70s New Musick/New Romantic, might never have occurred. He was vital to the dissemination of Krautrock. He conferred a cool upon a music previously considered a joke by journos as well as giving it a singular pop articulation.
Bowie wasn't just the sum of other people's originalities, of course. He was indeed the Man Who Fell To Earth, who had about him an otherworldly grace, a strange appetite for art and existence and a myriad, luminous quality about his genius. "Others abide our question; thou art free" as the poem says. He's felt half gone for a while but now that he's actually gone, the sense of collective bereavement and the mortality of our pop culture is palpable.
Simon Price, writer: It's a trivially banal aside amid the mourning, grief and takingstock, but one thing we now know for certain is that never again will we see David Bowie live. I count myself lucky that I did, many times. Three concerts, in particular, stand out in the memory.
One is the Glass Spider tour at Wembley Stadium in 1987, my first and – very nearly – my last. The Glass Spider tour was cursed. Cursed by death and disaster (a lighting engineer died falling from scaffolding in Florence, another worker was seriously injured in Milan). Cursed by a career low album (Never Let Me Down). Cursed by crap scifi choreography involving Peter Frampton and half a dozen dancers. Cursed by Bowie's own exhaustion, both artistic and physical. (Famously, he was so dazed that he greeted a crowd in Sunderland's Roker Park with "Hello, Newcastle!") Cursed, most of all, by the much vaunted Glass Spider itself, whose legs actually looked like a local mobile disco's rope lights, scaled up. At the age of 19, it almost put me off Bowie for life. Almost.
A far happier memory is that of Hammersmith Odeon in October 2002, a career-spanning 33 song extravaganza at the scene of Ziggy's last stand. A nice chap in the VIP seats asked me what my connection to the business was. I told him, and returned the question.
He introduced himself as Woody, as the features of Mick Woodmansey fell into place, and told me modestly "I used to play a bit of drums for David". The rest of the evening – watching Bowie while sat next to an actual Spider From Mars – was a surreal experience. Most mindblowing of all, however, was the show at the Royal Festival Hall earlier the same year, where Bowie performed the whole of his groundbreaking Berlin era masterpiece Low – not so much a breakup record and a breakdown record and, for me, the greatest Bowie album of all – as part of his own Meltdown Festival. For the encores, I was able to rush to the front and watch from directly underneath his surprisingly tiny feet, looking up within gimmeyourhands distance at The Dame during 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Fame'. Looking up at David Bowie is something I'll never stop doing.
Ben Graham, writer: One morning in my early 20s I woke with colours streaming out of me and no idea of who I was. The party acid I'd taken the night before had just kicked in, and I needed music, fast. I'd taped Low and "Heroes" from the library, sticking all the 'songs' on one side of a C90 and the instrumentals on the other. That morning the ominous instrumental side caused me to dissolve into abstract particles in a vast, dark and empty universe, a terrifying endless void where sinister alien intelligences nevertheless lurked on the burnt-out fringes of my perception.
Diamond Dogs rebuilt me from this sub-atomic state; it was still trippy as fuck but my ego was more than restored. Soon I was tottering down Huddersfield Road in a blouse of stars, feeling impossibly tall and skinny, intense and apocalyptic, heading for the post office to cash my giro. On my way back I bought a can of Coke and two Kit-Kats, and left them on a wall. It seemed important.
Bowie could be deeply psychedelic, but never passively so; he was always empowering, particularly if you felt disenfranchised or alienated for any reason. His music got me through five years on the dole in Halifax, just as it helped get me through high school. He gave me self-belief and the notion that by being mad and flawed, and really working on it, you could aspire to a strange kind of perfection.
Graham Lewis, Wire
Agent of surprise,
Master of disguise,
Under our noses
In front of our eyes,
Mr.Jones slips away
He bows, waves, then dies…
Bravo David Bowie!
Julian Marszalek, writer: Glastonbury 2000 and that feeling of anticipation and trepidation that turned into redemption and falling in love with Bowie all over again.
See, the Glass Spider gig at Cardiff Arms Park in 1987 had left scars so deep as to create a kind of musical post traumatic stress disorder, and a keeping of Bowie's contemporaneous efforts at arm's length over the next decade or so. This was Bowie playing to the gallery in the wake of Live Aid and it proved an empty and shallow spectacle.
But this was something else. Beautiful weather, the fine company of dear friends and a mounting sense of excitement as the sun dipped below the horizon and we tried to guess what he'd open with. 'Diamond Dogs'? 'Rebel Rebel'? Something uptempo, right? Wrong. He sashayed on to the stage exuding an effortless cool, his long locks flowing over his shoulders and sporting that multi-coloured frock coat with bootcut trousers and he glided into 'Wild Is The Wind'.
And so it flowed - one magnificent song after another as we realised gradually that here he was, reinventing himself again before our very eyes. Gone were the flirtations with drum & bass and industrial rock and chasing someone else's vision. It was a re-grouping and consolidation of all that had made him great in front of his own people at the festival whilst cannily reaching out to a wider audience watching the spectacle on TV.
The love affair had started all over again…
Mat Colegate, Teeth Of The Sea: The volume of the solos on Raw Power/ Kenji Siratori/ Andy Warhol/ Mod all- nighters/ Annette Peacock/ nearly all my best friends and a few people I detest/ Julian Schnabel and Jean Michel Basquiat/ Sonic Youth/ my first ecstasy experience/ Lautreamont's Les Chants Des Maldoror/ William Burroughs and Brion Gysin/ my sexual awakening/ Savoy books/ Jean Genet/ friends I don't see anymore/ Kraftwerk/ watching the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at a Centre Parks in Nottingham/ Paul Meyersburg/ the person with whom I shared the sexual awakening's dad (clearly visible on the back of the 'Let's Dance' picture disc)/ Yukio Mishima/ my second ecstasy experience/ Devo/ The fucking Snowman/ The contents of the dressing up box/ Harmonia/ Simon Dwyer's Rapid Eye/ legal highs at Phoenix Festival/ too many friends that I won't see again/ John Osborne/ Derek Jarman's Neutron/ Neu!/ SHUT UP REEVES GABRELS/ the first mix tape a partner ever made me/ Aleister Crowley/ being punched for wearing makeup/ I don't remember my third ecstasy experience but I bet someone put Hunky Dory on at some point/ Nicholas Roeg/ Tatsumi Hijikata/ let's just say 'Krautrock' and have done with it/ The Velvet Underground/ really loud backing vocals/ Brian Eno and Berlin/ I never think to listen to your music/ I hear your voice all the time my eyes are open.
Simon Fisher Turner, musician: Alive tonight in my headphones. Blackstar genius. Old memories, his and mine, reporters, opinions, technologies, Facebook friends, Bowiekids and, at the centre of it all, his eyes.
Flashbacks and memories wind backwards and sideways, sounds, film, colour, wit, laughter, noise, sex, cloth and always leaning forward, always the next door ready to open for us, and he, yes this man, made the key and opened us up.
He was the key. Simple.
Today, everyone could cry openly, red-eyed in the streets and we looked at and talked to strangers. I did, you did too perhaps. And I need to talk with someone, anyone, who felt this loss. More than my father it must be said. I've cried on and off all day. So!
Everyone united in this wonderlove for life.
What better teacher, what better gift could we have, and this evening I'm mostly stuck by how brave and strong he must have been to write his last seven songs.
I loved the past, but his future was what I waited for and he came around and whopped me in the face just last Friday morning. His breath, oh his breath will be missed. The world has been a finer place with his shoes by the door.
Tim Burrows, writer: What has stayed with me since reading the news before dawn had risen is an appreciation of how generous an artist he was, to the last. The moment I read 'David Bowie has died', Blackstar's penny dropped as the marvel that it is. I remembered the video to 'Lazarus', his evocation of the dying days of the Man Who Fell To Earth. It's surely one of the greatest artistic acts of solidarity that's ever been.
Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I can't claim to have seen the world change with a flash of orange hair and a catsuit. By the time I was a kid, Bowie's stamp was all over the pop and (oooooooooh) fashion landscapes. His aura had crystallised in that very post-MTV way, but his otherness still shone through. It was as the Goblin King that he first meant something. The character was basically David Bowie ramping up his natural intensity and dressing up like Toyah Wilcox, but he makes the film: "Turn back, Sarah," still echoes around my brain.
By the time Tony, the singer in my dad's soul band, got to the final of Stars in their eyes as Bowie, I'd discovered his great early-70s records - Ziggy, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane. But my two fondest memories of his music come from the same 20-minute section: side B of Low. The first is of a drive through Nazi fort-occupied coastal heathland in Jersey with Luke Turner of this parish, the almost primal eeriness of 'Warszawa' booming through the hire car. The second is of shared hysterics in the house I shared when I first moved to London a decade ago, pasta falling out of mouths and back on to plates as we tried to eat spaghetti bolognese to the darker strains of the second side. Somewhere between these sublime and ridiculous moments was Bowie, master of it all.
Jim Fry, The Pre-New & Earl Brutus: I've seen Bowie a few times. Earl's Court, Birmingham, playing keyboards for Iggy Pop in Manchester, the Phoenix Festival, Glasgow on his last tour, even playing saxophone with The David Jones Index. You don't need me to tell you he could electrify the stage. He was a showman in the classic sense but for me it was the audience, the reaction, the cause and effect that should be remembered.
One of my strongest memories is being at a railway station in Newcastle in 1978. I'd taken the train from Stockport to see Bowie there, and as we traveled from the North West into The North East different David clones got on in places I'd barely heard of. Thin White Dukes got on in Doncaster and a couple of Halloween Jacks joined at Darlington. On arrival the concourse was swamped with boys and girls from all those other nowhere towns like Stockport and Paisley. These were guys that should've been turning over hot dog stands, and smashing up bus stops out of boredom and frustration but today was special. They were dressed as sailors in white, in pleated black peg pants with black waistcoats, with orange hair, red braces, eye patches, platform shoes, jumpsuits, lightning bolts and jockey shirts.
They were transformed into beautiful futuristic space-aged men and women for a common cause. The kind of style and glamour you might see on TV, but this was real and it was on the station platform in Newcastle upon Tyne. Everyone was joined by some invisible force, sort of like ecstasy but this was long before any of us had heard of the drug. The show was still three hours away. We hadn't even got to Newcastle City Hall, but you could feel the hysteria and sexual excitement across the city and the best was still yet to come.
Laurie Tuffrey, tQ new music editor: In some ways, it's hard to pinpoint specificities with David Bowie, seeing as he's felt like an ever-present. I have memories of hearing Low almost too far back to recall or there's him keeping charge of the goblin horde or folded into my earliest recollections of Christmas, his introduction to The Snowman played back on grainy, home-recorded VHS. In others, he's indivisibly linked to specific times and places: listening to 'Fashion' on my sixth form bus journey through the Rivelin Valley or trying and failing, comprehensively, to recreate the guitar sound from ''Heroes'' on a 15-watt practice amp in my living room. He instilled that almost contrary feeling that comes with something encountered early on in childhood, of it being inherently personal and non-personal; the particular way he intones "blue, blue, electric blue" or that "serious" and "moonlight" seem natural partners feel like minute details, but you're aware they form part of a bigger, universalised whole, perhaps just out of the sheer conviction with which they're delivered. It's maybe because of how deeply all this is etched that the attendant sense of personal loss felt on waking up and hearing the news on Monday morning was so great, as I expect it was for so many people. At the same time, there's a kind of total awe at the way, stemming from that same conviction, he brought everything together at his life's close, to produce ★ and end on the track 'I Can't Give Everything Away'. Even if it's more than a little difficult to reconcile the act with the knowledge that he passed away in making it, that final album feels like one last gesture of complete compassion and generosity.
Ian Wade, writer: There were only three David Bowie singles in the family record collection - 'Drive-In Saturday', 'Young Americans' and a Maximillion EP of 'Space Oddity' with 'Changes' and 'Velvet Goldmine' on the flip. For a seven-year-old me, who'd missed out on the 'Starman' moment due to only being about two years old, and a few years off from any form of music press, I didn't really have any idea of the context of these songs by this one man. The spooky astro-folk of 'Space Oddity', futuristic chrome stomp of 'Drive-In' and sleek flimsy soul of 'Young Americans' didn't tally with being the same person. And while my sisters just enjoyed the songs, I hadn't a clue about what was going on. There were no wise elders informed enough to fill me in.
As time wore on, I began to become more aware of this Bowie chap. I was transfixed by 'Ashes To Ashes' during a family holiday at Butlins Skegness, my Dad declaring 'Boys Keep Swinging' "weird" while I stared at the wonky drag at the end. I spotted his numbers in every artist's 'My Top Ten' in Smash Hits. I accidentally said "surrogate" instead of "suffragette" and got laughed at in the changing rooms. I remember thinking 'Absolute Beginners' would be perfect at my wedding. In 1990 he released a best of, ChangesBowie, and only then did it start to fall into place about the sheer wealth of his work.
A year later, I popped into town to see my chum Gary at his flat above a shop in Dilwyn Street. While there, he played me Hunky Dory and passed me the cigarette he was smoking, thus introducing both cannabis and a full Bowie album to me at the same time. I was blown away on each level if I'm honest. Songs I'd known connected by these brilliant things about "bibbedy bobbedy hats" and being "not much cop at punching other people's dads". Far out. It felt like MY Bowie moment had finally decided to turn up.
The next day, I found Hunky Dory in the Ipswich Record & Tape Exchange at the extremely snip-worthy £2.99. Once I got it home I played it as much as the previous owner clearly had. Within a few months I'd got the bulk of his other albums and was finally getting it. And then it was like he'd always been there; it felt like all of the dots had been connected. Which is odd, because up until then, I was well versed in lots of electronic music, Kraftwerk, Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and what have you, but for so long I was just blind to Bowie being the thread that ran through all of them.
Thinking about him now he's no longer here has been gloomy. After hearing the news when the alarm went off - welling up and repeatedly going "No" - I was in a weird soup of grief for the rest of the day. Then I realised I was not alone; there were millions of other people just as upset. I don't think I've cried as much about someone I've never met. I'd like to think of him now as some funny uncle or cosmic pansexual minstrel type presence. Your dad's brother who blows in every once in a while to infuriate him; he flirts with your mum, cadges make-up and fags off your sisters and leaves a host of books, records and ideas that blow your mind, before buggering off again on a brand new adventure.