“The grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.” – David Bowie
January will forever be associated with the death of David Bowie.
On Monday morning, January 11th, 2016, the world woke up reeling from the shocking news that Bowie had died just days after his 69th birthday, and the release of his penultimate album Blackstar. The fifth track, ‘Girl Loves Me’, features the spooky, otherworldly refrain, “Where the fuck did Monday go?”
As 2016 unfolded in all its unpredictable horror, Bowie’s death actually felt like the beginning of the end.
Last year, we all became armchair and pub stool analysts bemoaning the state of the world. Brexit, Trump, terrorism, the rise of the alt-right and other sinister forces all conspired to brew up a very imperfect storm of division, suspicion, uncertainly and hatred.
However, Brian Eno quite rightly noted that there was a wonderful outpouring of love and explosion of creativity after Bowie died. It has taken me a while to fully realise this, but he’s completely right. As Irvine Welsh noted at the time, good art teaches us how to live, while outstanding art, such as the poignant masterpiece that is Blackstar, teaches us how to die.
Bowie worked right to the end, releasing one of his most startling and strangest albums, even by his own incredible standards, just days before he shuffled off this mortal coil. Leonard Cohen also left us with a spellbinding parting glass.
Rather than constantly bathe in the warm comfort zone of nostalgia, both these dearly departed trailblazers created timeless art that was always seeking new horizons rather than looking back in anger.
In the last week, I felt a lot of the shock and sadness of last year has been replaced by joy and an urge to celebrate the sheer fact that we were lucky enough to be alive at the same time as such an extraordinary man, even though a sense of loss still hangs in the air.
When I played ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Heroes’ to conclude a special David Bowie themed silent disco on his first anniversary last week, I was very moved by how people connected with the lyrics, “Something happened on the day he died. Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside. Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried: I’m a Blackstar, I’m a Blackstar…”
When it came to interpreting the world around him, Bowie was always miles ahead of the game. Judging by these quotes from an interview with The New York Times in 2002, Bowie read the future of music better than the entire dozy and parasitic industry put together.
David Bowie predicts the future
“I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,” he said. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.
“Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
Putting Paxman in his place
In a BBC Newsnight interview from 1999, Bowie spoke to Jeremy Paxman about alcoholism, drug addiction and how he can’t have a single glass of wine anymore, going to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair resplendent in stilettos, his various alter egos – and yet again nailed the future of the internet – both the good and bad- and why he thought the advent of acid house and dance music had also helped change the game.
“We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” Bowie said. “The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment – the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.
“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here – the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”
Watching the various tributes and anniversary commemorations, such as the terrific BBC documentary, David Bowie: The Last Five Years shown back to back with The Man Who Fell to Earth, I still felt sad, but also wonderfully inspired and filled with a deep sense of gratitude and awe.
Personally, it has been a sometimes testing, but an extraordinarily exhilarating and exciting year since Bowie died. He is partly responsible for prompting me to actively seek out new challenges and experiences, and pursuing a host of other things I thought I couldn’t do.
Also, in a small but deeply significant way, Swench.net took a wee cue from the Bowie.net venture.
David Bowie is dead. Long live David Bowie.
The Blackstar will shine forever.