David Bowie, Rest in Peace
A Sunday morning, sixteen years old, sitting in my family Volkswagen in front of the newsstand on West Fourth Street, reading another issue of Billboard cover to cover. And there, in black and white, was the ad announcing Hunky Dory's success, as well as the release of a new single "Starman."
I'd bought a remaindered copy of The Man Who Sold the World on Mercury some months before, on a tip from reading CREEM or Rock Scene undoubtedly. The production by Tony Visconti was fuzzy and wild, and the nascent performances of Mick Ronson and Woody Woodmansey were inspiring, especially on the riffy "Black Country Rock." So I was ready to love whatever Bowie brought next.
Hunky Dory was so much softer, so much more gentle that it was a bit off-putting until "Queen Bitch" came through the speakers. It was an homage to the Velvet Underground and was certainly a presage of what The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust was going to sound like.
But it was the songs, the infallible tunefulness, the lyrical state of wonder and vast field of subject matter that made Bowie rise above. Every album took the listener somewhere specific and left you there with a phrasebook and binoculars and little else; you had to look for yourself to see where he'd planted you, and it was up to you to fill with that wonder he described. We ate it up.
I often wondered how he could maintain his thirst for the new, especially as a touring musician whose bread and butter were 'the hits.' How do you get new songs across when your paying audience basically demands all of your greatest successes only? I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for him.
David Bowie's death yesterday at 69 was preceded on Friday by the release of his final album, Blackstar. (It just does not seem right or real to call it his last, and I know full well that record labels far and wide will begin releasing rough mixes and isolated vocals that are in his catalog until they've squeezed every last dime from him.) It is a phenomenal album, and Bowie challenged his listeners to the very end.
I'm grateful to have lived in a time when he did.