David Bowie: from dust to stardust, List writers pay their tributes
credit: Jimmy King
The man who fell to Earth has left us, thank you for the memories
David Bowie has left us, but his mark is permanent. Some List writers took a few moments to reflect on what Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, or just simply Bowie, meant to them …
I first encountered Bowie, not through his music, but as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson's cult classic Labyrinth. For any deprived souls whose childhood did not feature Hoggle, Ludo and the Bog of Eternal Stench Labyrinth is the story of 15-year old Sarah who, after wishing her baby brother would be taken by the Goblin King, has 13 hours to rescue him from the centre of a labyrinth teaming with complex riddles and weird creatures. In a film full of Henson's more unattractive puppets there is nothing goblin about Bowie; resplendent in fitted leather jackets, ruffled shirts and the snuggest leggings imaginable he's the ultimate glam rock villain. He's markedly different to other adversaries in children's films and more dangerous for it; he's sexual; amusing, manipulating, 'I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave'; and he repeatedly changes the parameters of their deal, when Sarah is doing too well he speeds up time. Naturally the film boasts a fantastic soundtrack, with Bowie's evocative tones perfectly matched to the surreal world of the labyrinth. He recorded five songs for the film including up-tempo, goblin boogie track 'Magic Dance', which deserves a place on any Hallowe'en playlist and the alluring 'As the World Falls Down'. In the final showdown Bowie is at his villainous best, flipping about a room of M C Esher style staircases and passing through Sarah like a ghost he hauntingly croones for her to 'Live without the sunlight. Love without your heartbeat' as he sings the final song 'Within You'. It's a performance that introduces you to the wonders of Bowie; his style, his music, his resolute stage presence, enticing you to seek out more of the man who played the Goblin King. (Rowena McIntosh)
If you'd told teenage me that I would greet with shock and sadness the news that Bowie had died, I'd have been baffled. I grew up disliking Bowie. When I started seriously engaging with music as a kid, I had been too young to notice the creative peak of Scary Monsters and 'Under Pressure'. When Bowie was churning out albums like Let's Dance, I was discovering Talking Heads; by Never Let Me Down, I was into Sonic Youth. Bowie seemed like a joke. I was baffled that so many people whose music I loved, like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, had so much time for him.
At some point I read Brian Eno's description of Bowie's voice. Eno praised Bowie's ability to sing something with (I'm paraphrasing) gloriously open, full-throated emotion. Hmm, I thought. Never noticed that before. He's right. And then, song by song, Bowie started to sidle his way into my heart.
I started to wonder why, whenever I heard 'Ashes to Ashes', I couldn't get it out of my head. I saw Grosse Point Blank: in the scene where John Cusack's desperate hitman stares into the eyes of a baby and learns the meaning of life, while Bowie sang 'And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night' in exactly the voice Eno was talking about, I started to get the point. The bit in 'Jump They Say' when a surging, growling chorus of Bowies sings 'They say hey that's really something' and a jittery piece of light-industrial pop suddenly grows a heart. The wonderful scene in A Knight's Tale when a courtly Renaissance dance tune mutates into 'Golden Years'. My wife had a Bowie compilation, and we'd listen to it on drives because it had the power to keep our baby daughter quiet. I'll never learn to love 'Changes', but 'Life On Mars' … damn, man.
Bowie's reserve, his game-playing, his masks, no longer came across as mucking about, but as his way of finding a frame strong enough for that fabulous voice of his. And the reserve has the power to break your heart: my single favourite Bowie moment is his performance with Annie Lennox of 'Under Pressure' at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert, where his stoical sadness calms down her theatrical grief, until by the end she's just clinging to him.
Cheerio, sir. (Alex Johnston)
A hero for Heroes
Back when I was an awkward oddity of a 12-year-old girl, my knowledge of Bowie wasn't brilliant (he's that fella from the film about a maze - I think he's a goblin or something - and he sang a Christmas song about drums, right?)
That didn't last for long. Bowie had a way of speaking to people, especially to the awkward oddities of the world, and as soon as I heard 'Heroes' I knew I wanted to hear a lot more. That song was my gateway drug into the wonderfully weird world of the Thin White Duke, and for that, and so many other reasons, it will always mean a lot to me.
It wasn't just the first Bowie song I knew and loved, it is one of my favourite songs of all time, and it eventually became the soundtrack to some of the most important moments in my life. It followed me through high school, college, university, and eventually became one of the two 'our songs' I shared with my first love. It reminds me of being young, growing up, and learning about real music for the first time.
David Bowie was a hero to many, and not just for one day: his legacy will go down in history, and I personally hope I never stop learning more about why I love his work. (Rebecca Monks)
'We can be heroes, forever and ever'
I grew up in David Bowie country (Bromley) in the 1980s and I remember everyone there claimed to have some nebulous connection to the great man (me? I once drank tea with his mum). Despite his otherworldly aura there was nothing aloof about his music, and millions of people today will feel a profound and inexplicably personal loss.
Heroes is my favourite song (of all time, not just from Bowie's formidable discography). Every time I hear it it demands my full attention, and there's nothing else quite like it – its fully-formed, supremely confident opening riff launches into a wall of sound like nothing I've heard since. It was 'Space Oddity' (now 46 years old!) that dragged my singular teenage attention away from The Doors. Compilation album Changesbowie was the soundtrack to my 1991.
But my favourite Bowie moment is his brief, bizarre appearance in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. As long-lost FBI agent Phillip Jeffries, Bowie fizzes in and out of existence in a baffling sequence that would have been explored in further films, had it not tanked at the box office. There had been some vague speculation that he might feature in next year's Twin Peaks series; alas, it seems that was not to be. (Murray Robertson)
‘Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere’
David Bowie’s music has been so overwhelming omnipresent in my life that I became a fan without ever realising it. Much of this relationship has been cultivated through my encounters with classic Bowie songs that appeared on film soundtracks, to which they always lent themselves so effectively. It’s well known Bowie himself had as strong relationship with film, but really it was whatever platform was available to allow him to project his overflowing creativity into the world. When I think of his music, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Golden Years’ all spring vividly to mind, thick with nostalgia, as though he were singing about today from some distant place in the future and a higher plane of existence. In that sense we were all lucky receptacles, whether we realised it or not. When the astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield released his cover of ‘Space Oddity’, I listened and watched dozens of times, as though in doing so the magic might rub off enough to send even me into orbit around the Earth, or at the very least eventually spit out a better version of me. But more than anything I wonder if Bowie's greatest legacy might be the generations of young people he inspired to embrace and take courage from their individuality, however weird or different that made you. Beyond his status as a role model, the music he created offered sanctuary for many in its deep, abiding empathy. It’s probably for this reason John Hughes placed lyrics from ‘Changes’ in the opening credits of The Breakfast Club: ‘And these children / that you spit on / as they try to change their worlds / are immune to your consultations. / They are quite aware / of what they’re going through …’ David Bowie will live on forever because there’s a little bit of him in all of us now. (Scott Henderson)
Read The List's track-by-track review of Blackstar.