It's Brian's fault.
I've spent all day thinking about it, and that's the only conclusion that fits.
It's Brian's fault.
All of it.
Another star blacks out of the sky, leaving the rest of us with their old photographs and scanned clippings that might artifact, but won't yellow.
Bowie was like rain and pavements. He'd been there in the forever before I was walking into things. Bowie was like sand and the heatdeath of the universe. His influence compressed into the blocks that built culture and would survive long after I've finished decaying. I'll be gone and forgotten decades before people stop playing Space Oddity.
Brian's bedroom was like a galley kitchen. It was long, tall and full of carefully-arranged knowledge stored in logical sequences. The room, like all rooms ever, was an accurate portrait of its owner. Brian and myself were drinking tiny bottles of duty-free beer, plucked from somewhere secure. We were trying to be as quiet as possible before the curfew fell down. That's when the lights'd start whistling and sirens flashing.
It's all Brian's fault.
Another star blacks out of the night that spews out Watchmen, becoming a full-stop in the finite ticker-taping story of our collective cultural Ideaspace. In another 1985, a topknot walks through an imaginary New York, his hand draped across his partner's shoulders. The Comedian is always dead and, somewhere, it`s October 12th. The sound of reprints must never stop.
Brian and myself were in a band, or if we weren't then, we nearly were. I've mentioned this before. Brian played bass because he had the build and talent for it. I shouted at people, because somebody had to. We were, like all bands ever, the best band in the world. There wasn't much light in the room, just an Anglepoise lamp and a portable TV balanced on a machine that played only dead format entertainment.
Whether or not any of this is factual doesn`t matter. It's the truth. In 1990 the future was still covered in plastic-sheeting.
Bowie was something that occasionally swam into focus in the passing sludgy flood of experiences. He'd drift up to the surface for a moment, in a Spitting Image sketch or in the background tinnitus flash of radio, and then be gone. Memories link to taste and smell. Labyrinth still smells of Curzon mint Poppets. As a film it feels like crushed-padded maroon armrests, squeaking tilted seats and burning, burning cheeks. Cheeks so hot they could've melted the frames of any glasses that weren't made from special NHS asbestos. Bigger boys, three rows back kept bouncing confectionery off the greasy hair of the weak and alone. High above, between the heavy curtains hanging like highwaymen, someone plays with Jareth's massive balls.
Childhood takes place under an obscuring layer of weird that floats like low-hanging poisonous fumes through a valley, sputtering up from something stygian and Underworldy. Adults pretend they can't see through the fug, pretend they can't remember what it was like living below the cover of responsibility. Tiny, stupid, terrible things happen under that cover. Stephen King remembered: It's all as above, so below. Still, scar-tissue looks manly and suggests character.
Brian and I talked, quietly enough to head-off an early curfew, about the things that are important when you're emerging from the odd cocoon of puberty and in the best band in the world, like all bands ever. We talked about books; comics; music; good teachers; bad teachers; rotten bastards and the other feral beasts that preyed on anyone wearing glasses; parents (old, new and other); music; which islands we'd buy; films; death; friends; GBH; girls; drink; poetry; immortality and the faces that we thought we might end up wearing when we finally, finally burst through the foetid miasma, plunging headlong into oxygen-rich maturity, blinking and completely unprepared.
Another star backs out of the spotlight. You can still see them if you squint, but it's a theatrical trick. They aren't really there anymore. Were they ever? Every picture is a self-portrait. Every story belongs to the reader. Every song is public property once it's escaped.1
I crawled through the calendar, throwing months behind me. Gradually, I started to stand, but it took bloody ages. Literally.
I picked up a boxed reissue of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars on the same journey to Exeter that netted me The Sisters of Mercy's Satanic Verses bootleg, but, oddly, no gigs at either the Lemon Grove or the Riverside for the best band in the world. Yeats' poem about Crowley gained resonance as, all around me, things started falling apart. I'd clamber up and along the rusted skeleton of the long-collapsed town pier, cheap and grip-free cowboy boots slipping on the base girder, clutching a rusty clavicle with one hand, holding my hat on with the other. Challenging the ocean/estuary that the non-hurricane of 87'd used to tear the seafront into werewolf-victim chunks to do its worst. To kill me dead.
Cursed with the luck of children, drunks and drunk children, I got away with it every time.2 Or so I thought. Sneaky git.
Time ground into the mortar of experience like a pestle. Trousers got baggier and fringes grew longer. I ended up in a capital city for a while. Using old skills to sniff out record shops, I rediscovered Ziggy via Brilburn Logue's Northamptonian Hunger mates.
By now I was nearly fully evolved: the clear vinyl Sound+Vision boxset was the first thing I purchased with plastic. Then came the Jump They Say 2CD set, which helped see me through the first degree of Shouting and Punctuation.
Another star stops strobing shadows on the cave wall. Everyone sighs and wonders what to do next.
Next thing you know, Black Tie White Noise is filling Woolworths windows and I'm discussing la Bush's Line and Cross and Curve with a Southport cabbie through flapping hair and intoxication. Long before she popped up in the jungle (or as a Coil sine wave) Angie Bowie plopped out some glorious muck-raking memoirs.
Time's folding over like blu-tack. Stretched out, laid on top of itself and stretched again until the molecules do something that physics hates by creating a material you can pull far too far. Hammock or noose?
Suddenly I'm in the - like all bands ever - best band in the world. I'm screaming, "I CAN'T READ SHIT ANYMORE" over the heads of a baffled crowd and into the plate mic that's hanging on the back wall of the North East Wales Institute's older theatre. It's not my face I'm howling out of, but I don't know that yet.
Then, weeks later, I scratch the face I'm actually wearing until it gushes, before insulting everyone who isn't me, drinking in the Watershed. This particular Watershed's in Wrexham. I'd seen Bowie play Pilate in a dockside Bristol cinema with the same name a couple of years before. Disappointingly, there weren't any protests outside to protestingly martyr myself through. The soundtrack album of the film in question rocked one of Steve Coogan's sexy cars and was recorded in the same studio as... Well.
I'm convinced that the band should make music as heavy, loud, danceable and full of drums as possible. This all stems from an early life drenched in soundtracks and Adam and the Ants. Later on, I'm lucky enough to almost touch the sounds in my head, shouting in front of the best band in the world.3 Before that, Se7en happens.
I'd been in love with Nine Inch Nails since I got a free badge as a reward for buying Pretty Hate Machine from the same HMV in Cardiff that God would later ask someone to have a chat to me in.4 Like Bowie, they'd both covered the Queen. Unlike Bowie, NiN used religion to offend people in a more obvious fashion. Se7en linked things I already liked, already loved and would come to like and love when I caught up. Bowie was on the wave, kicking sharks in the face and grinning more honestly than he had been when that Bert fellow was stealing his moves a few years earlier.
I fell out of college shortly after Se7en and washed up on an embankment next to the Taff. Every time it rained, the naked bulb in the squat`s kitchen wept onto the oven. It rained a lot, so I stopped cooking and drank instead. The chap on the floor below was lovely, if a bit enthusiastic, over-pupiled and liable to play Earthling (or Tricky's Pre-Millennium Tension) loud enough to make the window-frames shake. Which distracted me from Brass Eye.
I saw Lost Highway in Chapter, Cardiff's version of the Watershed. Sensibly, they played the film at Lynch-approved volume. I've loved Rammstein - who're consistently funnier than Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus - ever since. Around this time I read an interview with Bowie where he (probably) praised Viz and the literacy-enhancing aspects of the internet whilst jabbing a finger into Hirst's bloated pustule of Minotaur myth ignorance. I'm almost certainly embellish-
Another star stops broadcasting from wherever.
The connection breaks.
Where do we go from here?
An artist ceases production - momentarily: the repackaging'll begin tomorrow. Hours of unreleased recordings/remixes/alternate takes/stereo/mono/quad. This is when bootlegs rise up from the dry-ice underlayer and become legitimate. The songs they considered subpar'll barf out onto and into the incomprehensible digital charts and-
Let's not do this.
It seems pretty conclusive that Bowie - a man who returned after a decade, with an album that featured the altered cover of an album he'd released thirty-six years earlier - knew what he was doing.
Releasing his final album album on his final birthday, his final single, Lazarus-4
Tony Visconti said: “And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art.”4
It still doesn't seem real.
I want another album. Like a muppet hidden in the wardrobe of a haunted house that I'm trespassing in as a dare, I want him to jump out, shouting, "BOO!"
It still doesn't seem real.
Brian and I finish watching the Glass Spider do its thing. Whatever we're talking about stops because time flexes. Brian tells me he wants to cover a song and then lends me a tape. To help convince me, he gives me an album too.5 I make it downstairs and out the door without weeping or triggering a curfew/grounding. We both get away with it. I wander up through the town.
It still doesn't seem real.
Later on, in another country, I buy the CD version of the album Brian lent me. It's been sliced through the spine. That`s to mark that it's not from here.
Another star dies.
Another legend dies.
Another hero dies.
Another father dies.
Another son dies.
Another husband dies.
Another man dies.
It still doesn't seem real.
The world is still smaller. And it's all Brian's fault.
(And the first person to land on Mars better play that song when they get there.)6
1. Although Mr the Jagger's lawyers/Carter the USM might well disagree with that.
2. The pier in question crops up here, in Remains of the Day and in the fifth issue of Marvel's M*****man - it runs across the middle of page 24 - just after: "Barry got a copy of 'The Man Who Sold The World' with the Bowie-in-a-dress cover. Must have been worth 100 quid." - and page 25. That town's half of where Brian and I grew up, and it was in (near-enough) every comic shop in the world last month.3
3. If only that meant something, eh?
You wonderful, awful shit. How dare you do this?
How dare you?
You beautiful, doomed bastard.
This... This is something else.
This is a song that usurps almost every other pop-song about death. Top of the City and Moments of Pleasure from Kate Bush's The Red Shoes're as alluded to in the lyrical text as any other interpretation. Don't be fooled by certainty. Bowie slips out covertly. His last lyrics are beautiful, but mostly oblique. The majesty is astounding. And so is the cheek.
Bowie knows this song - his final single - will be be read nineteen plus ways in the days before he dies. And then the meaning of the song changes totally. And knowing that the wider the song goes before his death will magnify all the alternate interpretations? Sorry/Christ.7 That's art.
(And it also sounds like the Cure. You big Goth, you.)
5. No facts, only truth. Okay?
6. I can't believe you're pretending that either of you don't know which one I mean. Tch.
7. Delete as applicable.