What's your favourite Bowie song?
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Well, which one is it? “Space Oddity”? “Aladdin Sane”? “Changes”? “Life on Mars”? “Drive-In Saturday”? “Diamond Dogs”? “Rebel Rebel”? “Ziggy Stardust”? “Young Americans”? “Fascination”? “Station to Station”? “Sound and Vision”? “Heroes”?
Or none of the above? There are so many to choose from, after all.
The question at the top of the post is not one to put to Paul Morley, author of the just published The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie made a world of difference (which will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the TLS). At a recent event to mark the publication of the book at the Emmanuel Centre in Central London, Morley declared how much he hated being asked that question. I didn’t hear the reason why – he spoke rather fast and not always very clearly. Needless to say, when he took questions from the audience, first up was “What is your favourite Bowie song?” The look he gave the questioner was witheringly eloquent.
Many of us will remember hearing the news of Bowie’s death in early January. Although he was sixty-nine, he still seemed young – the ultimate Peter Pan, his fine features a little worn but not hugely so. And he had made a musical comeback from a decade of silence just three years previously, with The Next Day, featuring such poignant songs as “Where Are We Now?”, in which he revisited his highly creative Berlin period of the late 1970s.
I have to confess that I took rather a lot of time out from Bowie’s music – I’m unfamiliar with everything between Let’s Dance (1983) and the 2013 comeback. Maybe that makes me an old school Bowie fan. Morley has been a lifelong follower; his new book, which took him a mere ten weeks to write (it’s more than 450 pages long!), has clearly been long-gestating.
The final song on Blackstar, released days before Bowie’s death, is the urgent, mesmerizing “I Can’t Give Everything Away”. It would be hard to imagine a sadder, more heartfelt artistic signing off. Yet its exact meaning is mysterious.
Personally, I think Morley could have answered that essentially harmless question. It was rather self-regarding of him to bat it away. There’s no shame in having a favourite book/painting/song after all, is there? My own view, for what it’s worth, is that nothing can exceed the sheer strangeness and beauty of “Station to Station” (1976). And I don’t suppose I could have imagined thirty years ago that the funk-soul Young Americans (1975) would become my favourite Bowie album now that I’m listening to him again. Common to both is the wonderful guitar playing of the Puerto Rican American Carlos Alomar, who also appeared on Heroes, Low and Lodger. And while I’m at it, I have long wondered what one of the the lines from “Station to Station”, “the European cannon is here”, actually means! There are suggestions online, but nothing completely persuasive. Another Bowie mystery.