I’ve had a hard time dealing with the death of David Bowie. This is more than a little ridiculous. It’s not as if I ever met the man. My fandom isn’t lifelong. I’m not encyclopedic on his work. I haven’t even listened to his last album. And god knows there are more important things in the world to be unhappy about.
But, as a wise person said,
I grew up on Labyrinth. Another Bowie film introduced me to my great World War II passion. One of my novel’s main characters is indirectly named after him. More even than others’, his death feels like the end of an era. For whatever reason, I’m stuck on this sidewalk.
At the same time, I’ve been having a feeling crystallized in a new book: Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty by Ben Ratliff. I haven’t read it yet, but the title alone forms the slogan of my life with YouTube, Pandora, a huge purchased collection. Bowie died, and I thought I should rush out and buy Blackstar on vinyl. But why bother? In thirty seconds I could cue it up on Spotify. Even my usual laser focus on music popular in England in the mid-twentieth century offers a huge buffet every time I slip in my earbuds. Overwhelmed by choices, I catch myself repeating the same dozen tracks to escape the madness. I almost miss the days when high tech was a Walkman eating your lone cassette tape.
Here’s how I plan to work through both these situations at once.
A chronological festival hearing afresh the complete(ish) recorded works of David Bowie. One album(ish) at a time until I can sing along. Plus at least one biography and some films. I’m going to take all other music off my device* and turn off its signal. Just you and me, Davy boy.
It will be a challenge for me. Bowie’s recording career lasted over fifty years, with a rare percentage of quality and innovation – not much to skim over. A lot of his output I like or love; a good chunk leaves me cold; there’s also a hefty portion I’ve never really listened to. I’m much too accustomed to skipping around, sampling musical moods. I’m also impatient and mercurial and I may get fed up with this idea very quickly. But I think the Starman still has something to teach me.
Here’s my working syllabus. Perhaps you’d care to join me? We could hashtag it #BowieCrashCourse.
* Except Hamilton. I need my Hamilton.