Such a wonderful person, but you got problems

Very sad news about David Bowie, who’s work is as important to me as it is to seemingly everyone else on the planet. I’ve little to add, except to say that as with most great rock writers, for me anyway, it’s always particular lines and phrases from songs that make the deepest impression, and they’ve been popping into my head all day, with the tunes rushing in close behind – among them phrases that will probably always fascinate me with their bleak exuberance:


‘Put your ‘lectric eye on me babe / put your ray gun to my head / press your space face close to mine’ (Moonage Daydream)


‘All the nightmares came today / And it looks as though they’re here to stay’ (Oh! You Pretty Things)


‘What I never say is stay this time / I really meant to this time / ’cause you can never really tell / when somebody wants something you want too’ (Stay)


‘The return of the Thin White Duke / Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes’ (Station to Station)


‘Things that happened in the past / Only happened in your mind / Forget your mind / And you’ll be free’ (Fill Your Heart)


The line heading this post is one of my favourite, by anyone. You can hear it in context here:


I love the way it arrives towards the end of the song, the compliment speared by an accusation, ironic when it’s the ‘narrator’ who’s doing all the crazy stuff. There’s humour in the desperation, and a very human frailty lurks just beneath the surface weirdness.


I started getting into Bowie’s music about 1990, so the image meant much less than the sound. For me he was a great singer, great band leader (most of the bands he put together are among the best ever), and a great risk-taker – including the way he created lyrics. Like many writers, he followed his guiding themes – ‘It’s all despondency, despair, fear, isolation, abandonment’ he said (although his music is rarely miserable); and, crucially, he was open to all sorts of methods of composition. He was a master of the cut-up technique but could sit down and write a set of lyrics in the conventional manner. The key thing was not to go stale. I’ve blogged about Bowie’s methods before and you can read more here:


For anyone interested in writing, I think the thing we can learn from Bowie is the importance of experimenting – not being too controlling of our creativity, instead being open to whatever our creative impulse presents us with, even if the method is a sort of accident. In the end, how you get your material is irrelevant: it’s getting it that counts, and enjoying the process. Not all of it will be good but you gain confidence that the good bits will come and you learn to recognise them when they turn up (throwing out the rest). Do the work and sometimes – often in David Bowie’s case – the good bits will be great. Like these words from Fantastic Voyage, which seem apposite today:


In the event

That this fantastic voyage

Should turn to erosion

And we never get old

Remember it’s true, dignity is valuable

But our lives are valuable too


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