Saturday, 16 January 2016

Pushing backs against the grain

One thing David Bowie’s music taught me was to be honest in your creativity.

David’s work, outlook and creative processes have been the best art and music teaching I could have ever wished for. In addition to his music, his creative approach and his thinking still inspire me to this day, and will continue to do so.

I’ve always cited Bowie as an influence on my own music, but it is perhaps less evident, with my work being instrumental. But the atmospheres and textures of his music on albums such as Low are often what caught my attention, and that seamless integration between his music and its associated visuals – the videos, his personas and album cover artwork.

One thing that David said during a 1997 interview with Alan Yentob, was, “If you’re really turned on by what you’re doing, there’s bound to be other people out there who like it.” This really resonated with me, and as a self-taught musician, I’ve found it to be very true.  

I also shamelessly admit to borrowing that phrase, as it has become a creative motto to me. It has always been at the back of my mind whenever I publish a new piece of artwork or music. It no longer matters if I’m not the most accomplished player or whatever – I’m the best I can be, doing my best at this particular moment. And quite simply, if I like it, others will too. What more encouragement could you ask for? And I’m not sure I would have ever thought that way without those words from Bowie.

In another interview, David once described himself as “the ultimate recycler”, and I think that it true of any artist and creativity in general. You absorb your surroundings and influences, then reshape and repurpose them in your own way.

A week ago, I was still digesting Blackstar – this exciting new album from David Bowie, with no inclination – like everyone – of the nigh-on impossible to accept news that would be just around the corner.

“If I never see the English Evergreens…”

Now knowing the album’s now evident theme, the song Dollar Days now feels like the most honest and emotional song on the album, if not most open and vulnerable song he’s ever written. 

There’s a finite beauty to Lazarus. It’s over. Written from the future, where there’s no turning back.

“I’ll be free…”

But on Dollar Days we're back on the final path, and there's a real sense of angst and frustration, of the knowledge that he had little time left, yet he still had work to do; perhaps wanting to pull off another Ziggy moment and surprise everybody, but not in the way he eventually would.

“I’m dying to push their backs against the grain and fool them all again and again…. I’m trying to.”

Through those lyrics alone, you can sense his undying creativity was driving him forwards, pushing him on to keep going, working and creating.

Blackstar’s closing track I Can’t Give Everything Away, also has a sad finality to it. It is as if he’s saying, “you can’t have everything, but here’s one last lot”. If Dollar Days is denial, then in some ways, I Can’t Give Everything Away is a resigned acceptance.

So in one sense, the whole album makes me think of the stages/cycle of grief – that so many fans around the world are now experiencing:

Denial > Anger > Bargaining > Depression > Acceptance

It does feel like the loss of a friend or close family member. Yet, I didn’t know the man and had never met him, beyond standing a few meters away during the two times I saw him perform live (see my previous blog entry about that!).

But to those of us who took David’s music to that extra, deeper level and gleamed so much from it, it is unsurprising that we feel such a very personal loss. Not only knowing that David won’t be around any more, but also that internal sense of loss, attached to our own memories and all our personal experiences of his music that shaped our lives.

But Blackstar is an incredible album as a work of music and creativity alone. While in many ways it embodies his musical legacy, to my ears, it follows a similar thinking to the kind of more experimental albums that he put out in the 1990s – The Buddha of Suburbia, 1.Outside and Earthling. All three of those albums sounded ahead of their time at the time, and still sound incredibly current today. They included similar jazz elements that would go on to form the backbone of the music on Blackstar, and sit comfortably alongside it. It’s a great shame that much of the music press and critics didn’t have the brain capacity to understand or appreciate those albums at the time.

Its is worth noting, that despite being a similarly adventurous album, Blackstar was already headed for the number one spot before Bowie left us. So it pleases me to know, or at least hope, that David was aware of this, seeing his final work already embraced so enthusiastically.

On Blackstar he sings "Somebody else took his place...", yet we know that his particular boots will never be filled. David Bowie was always ahead of the game, musically, artistically and visually, and he stunned the world in so many ways right to the end.

“Ain’t that just like me.”

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