David Bowie – What Did I Miss?

Posted on January 12, 2016

I don’t know if you have noticed, but David Bowie died yesterday (aged 69) from a long and hideous illness that we all have had contact with directly, or indirectly, through our lives.

Extraordinarily, Bowie managed to keep his inevitable demise a secret, denying an increasingly mawkish media and general public of information about his health, allowing him to not only die in peace, but complete an album that in line with deceased rock stars, will sell tens of millions.

As millions of fans jammed social media outlets with tales of how they might as well have been dead if it wasn’t for the creative talent of Bowie saving them from sleeping with Satan, I began to rewind my internal clock and wonder how I evolved into one of the few pathetic souls whose life has been permanently damaged courtesy of not being touched by his genius.

Going back to my childhood that featured five children plus my mother and father, there were record players knocking around all over the place, but I can’t recall my parents being particularly musical. My father was seven years my mother’s senior so he had no record collection but he would sing all the time, generally dealing in war and post war songs where he had scant knowledge of the lyrics, replacing the ones he didn’t know with daaa, deee and dummm.

“Oh Danny boy, the lights are shining…from Glen to Glen, along the mountain side…daaa daaa deee daaa, deee daaa, deee deee, deee, dum…”

This infuriated my mother who was what I can best describe as a feminist of convenience and when my father sang the verse from the old Bing Crosby number ‘Galway Bay’ it was like entering a field dressed in a red gown and poking a bull with a hot poker. He did it on purpose I am sure.

“Oh to see again, the ripple of the trout stream,

The women in the meadow making play”.


It was a happy childhood.

So, there was no chance of getting into Bowie courtesy of my father (who would have definitely seen him as a weirdo) and as right-on and hippy as my mother was attempting to be (going on CND marches and attempting to smoke a bit of pot) all I can remember from her record collection was an album by The Moody Blues and in particular, a song called ‘Tuesday Afternoon’.

The Moody Blues always made me imagine wealthy female members of the middle-class floating around semi-drunk in some huge garden in Henley on Thames. They would be wearing flowing white dresses as their moustached playboy lovers laughed raucously in the background, presumably at their good fortune. ‘Tuesday Afternoon’ still reminds me of my mother, white cotton dresses and the River Thames.

What on earth happened to me in the early 70’s that leaves that song firmly wedged in my sub conscience? Perhaps I am better off not knowing.

Tuesday Afternoon: Wedged in my Sub Conscience

There are also vague memories of the Seargent Pepper album, but as the early seventies moved towards the scorching summer of 1976, there was still no sign of David Bowie in the growing record collections owned by my elder brothers who were by now, in their mid-teens.

Bruce (the eldest) listened to Deep Purple, Nazareth, Status Quo, Hawkwind and Rainbow as he shook from side to side with his thumbs wedged in the belt loops of his Brutus Gold jeans, whilst Graham (six years my senior) got into punk, heading to London to watch the The Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Clash amongst others in that legendary Jubilee year of 1977.

With all due respect to Bruce, I followed Graham’s lead and rifled through his record collection instead of Bruce’s as it all seemed so new and aggressive; White Riot by The Clash seemed so much cooler than Blockbuster by The Sweet and in The Jam song ‘Time for Truth’, Paul Weller said “Fuck Off” which at the time, was outrageous stuff and kicked off a childhood dominated by The Jam that led to the point of obsession.

I think what got a lot of my peers and I into the The Jam was the fact that their songs were essentially about suburban angst. Because much of our teenage years were spent in post war/cold war, overspill towns like Basingstoke, where we found entertainment in bus station chip shops or chasing girls from the concrete estates, The Jam felt part of us, especially as they were from Woking, just a couple of junctions along the M3.

The song ‘Saturdays Kids’ summed up our lives between the ages of 12 and 16, where entertainment meant putting on a Lonsdale top and catching a bus to Reading or Basingstoke and seeing where the day went from there (generally the swimming baths, Reading football matches, or shoplifting in Woolworths).

Saturdays Kids: A Song for the Suburbs

David Bowie didn’t even cross our paths, so I guess he must have been part of the art school genre or more a London thing? Unless of course, he was Graham’s guilty secret, with the alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, hidden in an even better place than his copies of Mayfair (under the chest of draws by the bunk bed). I never heard anyone say they hated David Bowie, but I never came across anyone who really loved him either.

I have also tried to recall whether the Hurst School discos featured David Bowie, but I only have bitter memories of early developed girls being sycophants to art teacher come DJ, Mr Bailey, a total jerk if there ever was one. He played songs by Adam and the Ants, Bad MannersPhil CollinsMadnessGoing Underground by The Jam if you were lucky, a bit of the Stray Cats for Rockabilly rebels John Newton and Richard Knight and ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ for Debbie Watts.

This was followed by the “slowies” where we would attempt to distract the girls from Mr Bailey as ‘Zoom’ by The Fat Larry’s Band, or ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet, played out to a semi-deserted dance floor. Few got lucky and if they did, they were persecuted for the alleged semi-erections poking at the cheap material of their sta-press trousers that were created by the same chap who invented blotting paper.

As an art teacher, you’d have thought that Mr Bailey would have been a quirky type who impressed David Bowie upon us, but I think he was generally more interested in getting young girls into the back of his Ford Capri than whether ground control was in contact with Major Tom.

So, as millions of people of my age come out and express their devotion to the man who wrote the songbook for their lives, I wonder whether living under the shadow of nuclear missiles on the edge of suburbia, denied us simple folk of David Bowie? Perhaps he was more suited to those who blended a love of the British establishment with a bit of alternative fadism to prove their quirkiness…if the BBC’s and David Cameron’s gushing tributes are anything to go by, I may be on to something.

That said, David Bowie was obviously an amazing talent, that is more than apparent, but I can’t help but wonder whether some of those claiming to have adored him are the same types who wear T-Shirts with The Ramones or Nirvana written on them. I fully expect a surge in students wearing Bowie shirts in the coming months, weeks and years.

Yes, I am afraid I missed out on the David Bowie phenomenon and there is a part of me that wonders whether I did indeed miss something special? Of course, I could download his back catalogue of albums and attempt to re-invent my youth as someone who was an avant-garde post-modernist who, swimming in Lake Bowie, pushed his musical mind to the boundaries of the universe and beyond.

However, whilst I have huge admiration for a man who has cheated the media of writing about his illness whilst bravely penning an album about his impending demise, I am probably better off fondly remembering my youth for what it was rather than what it could have been.

Right, where’s that copy of Setting Sons?

2 Replies to "David Bowie - What Did I Miss?"

  • Nick
    January 13, 2016 (7:22 am)

    Two memories from me.
    One was a holiday in Porthcawl in 1980 where we played pool every night in the Seabank hotel where the jukebox only had a few decent songs and we got into Life on Mars to the extent that the 5 of us learned all the lyrics and used to sing it on the beach, on trains etc.

    Secondly we got tickets in 83 to see him perform at the Milton Keynes Bowl. 4 of us went and for some reason I was designated driver even though my Hillman Hunter had a problem which meant it could only do 30mph and needed a rest every hour or so. So after a 7 hour drive, we made the gig just in time to see Bowie deliver a stonking set dressed in a bright yellow suit. He looked so clean, bright, energetic and talented. Needless to see we all got very drunk, whereupon the best plan seemed to be for me to drive all the way through central London to Wimbledon to stay at my mate’s girlfriend’s flat. I remember falling asleep at the wheel on the M1, my mate grabbing the wheel to prevent us attacking the central reservation. I think the fact we could only do 30mph probably saved our lives!

    • Dickiemcspangle
      January 14, 2016 (11:43 pm)


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