David Bowie






This stereo soundscape is a tribute to the 70s work of David Bowie, centring principally on the five years between 1973 and 1977, though also bracketed with elements from earlier work and final work. It excludes Pin-Ups, but includes Iggy Pop's album The Idiot, as the music was mainly composed by Bowie (using it as a trial run for ideas fleshed out on Low), and is a fascinating bridge between Station To Station and Low.

The piece functions like a radio play or speculative documentary; it is an affectionate portrait where edits from songs form building blocks for new combinations, associations and references, along with music he was influenced by/took from, film, current affairs, comedy, field recordings and interviews. It is cinema for the ear, and should be listened to via a decent amp and speaker set up or good headphones - not computer speakers or smartphone, as much detail and subtlety will be lost. The piece is freely downloadable to transfer to suitable listening media.

I grew up with Bowie's 70s albums, and they had a huge impact on me. He was utterly unique, his star rising at a time when, via big label backing and a strongly competitive streak, he could occupy a monopoly position and maximise his impact through a dazzling range of stylistic shifts and otherworldly personae. This body of work (completed by the time he was just 30) has a remarkable durability for me, and repays constant replays – I never tire of it.

Whether sliding down a rope or slithering down a greasy pipe, he was continually moving forward in a whirl of high speed, voracious and unceasing creativity, capturing things quickly then moving on (a lot of his vocals were done in very few takes), avidly soaking up everything of interest that came into his orbit. He was like a perpetuum mobile. He seemed to anticipate the post-modernist, fragmented approach of the 80s and beyond.

It's curious how his strenuous attempts to steer clear of the 'madness' (as he poorly labelled it) in his family background, drove him via his prodigious cocaine intake, to those very states he was so keen to avoid – rampant paranoia, delusional beliefs, blurring of reality and fantasy and what would now be called schizo-effective and addictive behaviours. And yet he remained as creatively focused as sunlight through a magnifying glass. This is perhaps partly what saved him, the 'distraction' of it away from those negative states. It was his own therapy. What is remarkable is how he managed to survive and effectively manage his own recuperation in a much needed move from Bel Air to Berlin. Iggy described him as having “a lot of psychic stamina”.

I've used some of Mica Levi's soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's film Under The Skin, as I feel there are echoes and resonances with The Man Who Fell To Earth, both featuring big name stars going 'anonymous' as autistic aliens on a strange unspecified mission. I also liked the idea of references coming from outside of my chosen time frame, which is part of the Bowie legacy, the sense of a certain kind of future in his work, that was built on by others who took it as a template for their own excursions. Jurgen Knieper's score for Wim Wenders' film, Wings Of Desire also appears in places as a subtle backwash, a shorthand for the last of pre-unification Berlin.

There's also the hauntological aspect of those futures that never arrived. As a teenager in the late 70s, Bowie's albums always felt like the future, always forging ahead, a lightning rod for their time. They still do. A distorted, uncanny temporality is essayed at the start of the piece, where echoes of Space Oddity exist alongside 2001, a line from Lazarus (with its suggested/inevitable future), and a pre-cursor to Blackstar in the form of an Elvis song of the same name from 1960.

The title, taken from the final track on Diamond Dogs - Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family – is one which works on a broader scale to its specific reference, hinting at an astronomical dimension, a satellite in constant orbit, both during and after his life, spinning in constant motion, an energy field, a strange attractor, ever present. There is also a connection with the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, where the spirit remains and seeks a new body and a new life. Bowie's ashes were scattered in Bali in line with these beliefs. A new career in a new town – listening to new music: night and day. 


Teasing out the reincarnation trope a little further, apparently the midwife who delivered Bowie had a reputation as a clairvoyant, and said to his mother Peggy, "This child has been on earth before". Reliable anecdote or convenient fiction, it is a tantalising image to bolster the backstory.

2 comments:

ELK said...

Excellent tribute. ��

Fergus Kelly said...

Thanks !