Wow, it seems to be the season for knockout news. David Bowie, once so young and vital, now dead of cancer and off life's stage at sixty-nine. Gone forever. The chameleon singer and actor and trendsetter for my generation. I won't say I modelled any part of myself on him, but he must have had an influence nevertheless, if only as a colourful and inspirational rebel figure with clout - exactly what I never was - who wasn't afraid to be new and challenging again and again and again. My goodness, that make-up! Those strange outfits! But it's the songs that matter. And their effect - which has been huge and long-lasting, spanning four decades.
I'm old enough to have seen him perform his first proper hit, Space Oddity, on Top Of The Pops way back in 1969. I was actually still at school, doing my A Levels. Dad had just bought a colour TV - not to watch David Bowie with, but to watch his beloved golf; but there were many enjoyable spin-offs for the rest of the family. Seeing Top Of The Pops in colour was one of them. It was so nice to see my pop heroes in all their glory. I had watched the Beatles' 1968 Christmas Special - Magical Mystery Tour - in dour black and white, with Mum and Dad tut-tutting darkly over every minute of it. I think my Uncle Wilf and Auntie Peg were there as well. They didn't understand what was going on, or at least said they didn't. (I dare say they understood much more about the way society was moving forward than I could. I was only seventeen, and very inexperienced indeed) But they might all have found MMT easier to digest, had they seen it in amazing (if lurid) colour.
I think Mum and Dad actually approved of Space Oddity. Bowie (at that point) was 'normal'. He was a very clean cut, very good-looking young man with a folk guitar and easy-to-understand lyrics. It was (apparently) a straightforward song about Major Tom, astronaut and loving husband, whose space capsule malfunctions. An alternative notion wouldn't have occurred to them - that Major Tom had decided to pull the plug on returning to his humdrum earthly life, preferring to spin off into deep space, embracing the silence and immensity of the universe. Who would do that?
Bowie wasn't multicoloured and androgynous and 'weird' then. But he soon was. Almost everyone was. And many of them were simply following Bowie's lead.
Enough said. There will soon be a flood of words and pictures and musical analysis. I need not comment further. To round this post off, and at the same time reveal what appealed to me about his talent, I can hardly do better than list the David Bowie songs - mp3 tracks - installed on my phone right now for daily listening. I won't cheat. It's a meagre, bare-bones collection, that needs expanding. And there are in fact several songs I intend to add, such as Sound and Vision from 1977. But they aren't yet on my phone, and mustn't be listed as if they already were.
The Laughing Gnome (1967, released again 1973)
Space Oddity (1969)
The Jean Genie (1973)
Drive-in Saturday (1973)
Life On Mars? (1973)
Rebel Rebel (1974)
Boys Keep Swinging (1979)
Ashes To Ashes (1980)
The odd one out is of course The Laughing Gnome, a novelty recording. But it reveals David Bowie as a man of fun. A man with a playful sense of humour. I don't think he ever lost that.