By Steve Newton
Talk about a shocker.
Got up at the usual 7 this morning, realized there was no instant coffee–and no wife awake to make me a latte–so went straight to the cell phone.
Saw a tweet about a new concert announcement that needed blogging, so headed over to the computer, clicked on the straight.com home page, and couldn’t believe my freakin’ eyes:
David Bowie dead at age 69 after cancer battle read the headline.
It can’t be.
I didn’t even know he was ill.
Now it’s over 12 hours later, and I still find it hard to comprehend the music world without David Bowie, the Thin White Duke.
Or as I like to remember him best: Ziggy Stardust.
I vividly recall the first time I experienced Bowie. The day before my 16th birthday–on April 13, 1973–he released Aladdin Sane, and a few days later my high-school buddy Seeks and I entered the Kelly’s Stereo Mart at Five Corners in Chilliwack, in search of new vinyl to file next to our recently purchased copies of Blue Oyster Cult‘s Tyranny and Mutation.
Two album covers caught our eyes. (This was back when album covers caught your eyes.) One was Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, the other was David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. Both featured photographs of guys with makeup. We didn’t mind guys with makeup. Hey, it was the heyday of glam rock, and my favourite album at the time was Alice Cooper‘s Billion Dollar Babies.
David Bowie’s red-and-blue lightning-rod makeup was really eye-catching, though.
I remember thinking: “Wow, I have no idea what this guy sounds like, but I bet he rocks.”
So I bought Aladdin Sane, and Seeks bought Raw Power, and we adjourned to our respective turntables to reach a verdict on what exactly the hell we’d just stumbled onto.
I’m embarassed to admit it now, but for some reason I wasn’t immediately won over by Aladdin Sane, and I’m pretty sure it was the quirkiness of the title track that threw me off. At the time I was all about guitar riffs, and–even though I would eventually conclude that Aladdin Sane boasted a barrage of great ones courtesy the legendary Mick Ronson–at the time I couldn’t dig the wacky, avant-garde pianowork of Mike Garson. I ended up swapping Seeks for Raw Power, which boasted more than enough raunchy guitar riffs to keep me going until the next Blue Oyster Cult album came out.
I overcame my kneejerk reaction to Bowie’s outlandishness pretty quickly, though. Before long I’d gone back to check out his earlier material, and the previous year’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars became a steady fixture on my woodgrain Yamaha YP 701 with the trusty Shure cartridge. I revelled in engineer-mixer Ken Scott’s amazingly crisp production and the killer combo of Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Woody Woodmansey.
As much as I adored the rollicking dynamics of the Spiders from Mars, I was totally cool with it when Bowie hooked up with different players like guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist Willie Weeks, and drummer Andy Newmark and went all soulful with Young Americans in 1975. “Fame” was some funky-ass shit!
Then when he transformed into the Thin White Duke with the next year’s Station to Station I got to see Bowie in concert for the first time, at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. I remember the show started with a sequence of surrealistic images–including a razor blade cutting into an eyeball–but I was more concerned about hearing the cutting guitar of Earl Slick–who’d sounded so wicked on the album, especially on the feedback-laden intro to the 10-minute title track.
Apparently he’d been replaced when the tour started by somebody named Stacey Heydon, but I still loved the show, which was presented in stark black-and-white. Bowie’s charisma was incredible. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.
And what a voice. I’m pretty sure Station to Station‘s “Wild is the Wind” is one of his finest vocal performances.
It blew me the hell away, anyway.
Like most fans of rock and pop music, I also loved David Bowie outside of the seventies. Who didn’t go nuts for the Stevie Ray-flavoured hits of 1983, “China Girl” and “Let’s Dance”?
And I thought “Time Will Crawl”, from 1987’s Never Let Me Down, was one of the catchier tunes of the eighties.
I didn’t follow Bowie’s career that closely in the ’90s–might have been a little distracted getting married and raising kids and such–but I did think his Reality album of 2003 was impressive, as was the concert he put on at Vancouver’s GM Place in 2004 as part of The Reality Tour.
For me, it was always be Bowie’s stunning work in the seventies that made him one of our true unforgettable musical “Heroes”:
Time to see if Seeks will trade me back that old copy of Aladdin Sane, I guess.