Eamon Carr: 'Having met him a few times, Bowie carried his genius lightly'
To his millions of admirers, it might feel like a cruel trick. An ill-conceived PR stunt.
But it isn’t. It’s news. Hard news. David Bowie is dead.
In life, as in show business, timing is everything. And Bowie, ever the consummate theatrical performer, has made a final exit that has sent shockwaves around the globe.
Just a few days ago his fans thrilled on hearing him singing, “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”
These are the opening lines of Lazarus, a track on the album that was released on Friday.
He looked a bit gaunt in the video. A character on his deathbed, who got up, did a little dance before writing furiously.
The album it’s from is Blackstar. Even before the grim announcement, it was being hailed as one of the singer’s more totemic works, ranking among his greatest creative achievements.
Bowie is dead. So how was it for you?
The kernel of the man’s genius, thanks to his wondrous repertoire of songs, is that most people feel they had a direct personal connection with him.
It wasn’t always a given that David Jones from the London suburb of Bromley would become one of the most influential figures in popular culture. Like many who became teenagers in the Sixties, Bowie was initially attracted to the gritty rhythm’n’blues that had been made fashionable by bands like The Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things.
But young Jones had an innate grasp of the vagaries of pop. More than most, he understood the importance of style. He embraced the traditions of theatre and dance with the same enthusiasm as he showed for folk music and rock’n’roll.
Having absorbed much of what had gone before, he constructed the most fascinating, mysterious and challenging pop creation ever. Himself.
In doing so, he inspired legions of young men and women everywhere.
Incorporating elements of Weirmar Republic Cabaret, science fiction, hard rock and androgyny, he changed pop music forever. No matter how exotic his chameleon-like persona become, he maintained a connection with his audience.
Listeners developed an empathy with Bowie through lines in his songs that shared truths and acknowledged personal convictions.
When he sang, “We can be heroes…”, he made it possible to believe. He convinced even the most sceptical by adding…”Just for one day.”
It probably sounds bizarre but, having met the man on a number of occasions, I came away with the words of the 18th century Irish poet and novelist Oliver Goldsmith chiming in my consciousness.
“And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”
Bowie carried his genius lightly. He had an impish sense of humour and a span of interests that ranged through all of the artistic disciplines.
Here’s a fun example. Bowie was on the editorial board of the celebrated art magazine Modern Painters. Sometime during the 1990s, Bowie collaborated with writer William Boyd on writing the biography of a forgotten artist, Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928-1960.
It caused a sensation in the art world with critics and curators praising his work and recalling the times they met.
Wrong! The whole thing was a scam. An elaborate hoax. A magnificent in-joke.
Sadly, today, there’s no delayed punchline. No Houdini-style hope of reappearance. The news that David has died from cancer is undeniable. And heartbreaking for those millions of us who feel we’ve lost a valued friend.