On the last day, his last day, we merely note Bowie rampant and triumphant. Where he was, where he will be, wherever he still goes. The rules for celebrating today are the most easy.
You just have to like David Bowie, listen to one of his songs at least once, and reflect on where you were on the first last day of Bowiemas, January 10th 2016.
My First Bowiemas story goes like this:
We’d spent the weekend at the home of my oldest biggest best friend’s. (His birthday falls on day 2.) Our Bowie went way back. We had first bonded by mutual appreciation of him, and like Suede or whatever.
Years after that introduction, much later but not far away, in our arrogance we had talked quite seriously that afternoon about going to watch Gil Scott-Heron on another stage instead, but in the end had stuck with our instincts, paying respect to the wishes of our even younger selves.
This was the best man who, driving me to my handfasting, had put Queen Bitch on the car stereo as we wound up the hill, because he knew this was the track we needed to hear as we headed into out a different big day. The man from a million other moments neither of us are young enough to remember.
Years after, 2016, we had all had a very lovely Bowie-centric weekend, because a new album was out, and … It was good!? Maybe really, really good?
As Bowie lay dying, me and the handfasted slept in my friend’s studio, directly under Aladdin’s gaze, through a poster from an exhibition I’d foolishly not bothered with at the time, because, well
‘I think I’m a bit Bowied out, actually?’
(Wow. How wrong you can be.)
All our conversations that weekend inevitably went in that direction. Was he, like – back? Would he tour? If this album was this good, what would the next one be like?
We went home to the coast, did our thing, went to bed –
And the next day, Monday morning – he was dead.
I was instantly ruined, much more than I thought possible, reasonable or permissible. I got as far as work, wept for five minutes, and signaled I was off and would be back tomorrow. Got back home into her arms and cried and laughed the whole day. We honestly felt like a piece of us had left too.
Now every year the third of Bowiemas brings that piece back. Today is the point where Bowie unfolds back out into something as big as the universe.
This makes us all Bowie in a way. Reflect on those people who were-and-are-also pseudo-Bowies for you: friends, collaborators, followers. Believers.
First up, this track. It is – let’s be clear – not very good. But I am here for it because ‘Tis a Pity (hyperventilating demo version – ‘perfectionism’ damaged a few of his best songs) casually threw down a template for skronky art rock as a living, deep-breathing thing that only Reznor has tried to pick up. Imagine a rock’n’roll not inescapably locked into the 20th century, able confront the agonising problems of its successor on its own terms, without running to the safety of the past or populist mediocrity. What if rock’n’roll was not dead? What would it sound like? This track is unsuccessful, but in the most appropriate, over-reaching way:
Track it back to Nina Simone, who came across our path yesterday. The thing she added to Anthony Newley is precisely the thing Bowie dissolved and dismembered in his version of this song. The space it leaves behind is exactly where Reznor wants to be, hinting at dangers and communicating a cold pain she would have well understood:
The final track is a perfect one-two punch to close out this year’s festival. You have to love the way 80s synth-pop’s Annie Lennox is transformed in these performances to be beside herself, and to discover herself is Bowie. Look at the polarity, how in rehearsal he faces her and, just a little bit, coyly draws her in, beckons her forward…. (You get huge, huge points in this video if you are George Michael btw.)
By the night of the big show Annie is self-contained but fully convinced. She is cool and professional and thinks of the crowd – right up until the closing crescendos, by which point she is just crawling all over her idol, manic and lost like you would be if you ever got so close to touching something so important.
Shame we never got to see Gil Scott-Heron before he went, that would have been great too.