I was terribly sad to hear of the death of David Bowie last week. He has had countless tributes written to him and rightly so. My mother couldn’t understand it, “Do you know it’s been nothing but David Bowie all day long!” I’m prepared to forgive her, she’s 87 years old after all and can’t comprehend what all the fuss is over a “Starman.” But the death of an artist should always be recognised and mourned to say thank-you for what they have given us. Anyway, we could do without interest rates, the national deficit and Trident with or without the equipment to blow us all sky high for a day, couldn’t we?
Our heroes are at their greatest and most influential when we’re young and in our teens and another of mine has just passed away leaving me some of my favourite memories.
I never got to meet him or see him live, but a lot of my meagre pocket money was invested in his records, most of which I can still play without too many scratches and jumps. So here’s two of my Bowie related memories which have stuck with me for differing reasons.
As teenagers we would save up enough money for the ferry fare and food to last us a week or so, and get an overnight coach to Paris, where there was an agency that could supply us with jobs picking fruit. On one occasion, three of us got a job apple picking down in Agen, an expensive all night train journey away.
However, we needed somewhere to stay the night before we got the train and funds were low. It was too far to hitch hike, so the train ticket planned or not, was a necessity. This meant finding the very cheapest hotel accommodation possible and the one we found was as seedy and run down as you would get in a Philip Marlowe novel. The walls were paper thin and all the sounds of a Parisian night could be heard coming through them. Arguments, fights and the mademoiselles of Pigalle, conducting their business. We’d taken two rooms, a double and a single. Normally, we’d be tossing a coin to see who got the luxury of the single bed, this time none of us wanted to be sleeping alone. I lost the toss. I had never seen my roustabout, teenage, mates look so concerned for my safety and well being as they did that night. “Mick sleep in your clothes,” (You wouldn’t have done anything else, the sheets had stains on the stains and the blankets were crawling.) “And tie your rucksack to your belt, that way you’ll wake up if anyone tries to rob you.”
As it happened the night passed without event and I slept the sleep of someone who perhaps didn’t really appreciate the extent of any danger.
I have always taken my music and a book wherever I go, what else do you need? At the time I had a small tape player and in the morning it was playing Ziggy Stardust. As I gazed out of the hotel window onto the sordid backs of grimy Parisian buildings and dirty alleyways strewn with weeks of litter and detritus, swirling in the mist, Five Years began playing. It was the perfect collision of setting, atmosphere and sound. A strangely special moment. Amongst all the filth, something quite perfect, desolate and bleak.
A year or two later, I was at home in the living room listening to Low, whilst my mother was in the kitchen doing the washing. As I went through to get a drink I was singing along to the record, “Don’t look on your carpet.” My mother’s mouth formed the perfect oval of concern. Not fully cognisant of what was happening, I continued with the next line, “I’ve done something awful on it.” Her eyebrows shot up her forehead to sincerely worried level and she rushed past me into the living room. I followed to find her busy examining the carpet. “What have you done? I can’t see anything.”
Thank-you David Bowie for these small but priceless moments. Rest in Peace.