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A Small Tribute to David Bowie

The news of David Bowie's death sent the music world into a state of shock and mourning.  The extent to which Bowie was loved was clear: it was etched on the faces of his shell-shocked fans paying tribute to him at a Brixton mural and similar vigils all over the world.  Fans were paying tribute to the late singer in their masses.  They had to go there, often for no other reason than for not knowing what else to do.  Such was Bowie's impact and importance on people's lives that these vigils sprung up, almost creating themselves.  It came just two days after what would have been a double celebration for many of his fans: it had been the singer's 69th birthday and with it came the release of Black Star, his 25th studio album.  It was a sad day, and one that was best summed up by James Ward in this very poignant piece.  

I'm sad to say that I wasn't directly exposed to David Bowie's music growing up, even though my parents had been keen fans of glam rock in their youth - a sub-genre that Bowie's alter-ego Ziggy Stardust helped to define.  An inventory of their record collection reads like a 1970s rock fan's dream, and mum even has a scrap book full of autographed ticket stubs from long-forgotten prog rock bands she went to see as a teenager.  She even used to have a piece of Freddie Mercury's sequined costume she tore off him when Queen performed at Cheltenham Town Hall during a bout of what must have been Beatlemania-like teenage hysteria.  This should all point towards an upbringing on a diet of T.Rex, Queen, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople, but music only played a bit part in their lives when the responsibility of parenthood took hold, translating into just two audio cassettes  that I can remember being played regularly: Queen's Made in Heaven, an album released in the wake of Freddie's death, and Oasis' What's the Story Morning Glory, one of biggest-selling rock albums of the 1990s.  I loved those albums, but I'd yet to understand the macabre irony of Too Much Love Will Kill You, and I hadn't learnt that it was manifestly cooler (and probably safer) to sit on the Pulp side of the Britpop fence than to sit in Gallagher brothers' garden.  But A Winter's Tale will always be my favourite Christmas song, while Don't Look Back in Anger will always have the best ever drum solo - an admission that may not sit too comfortably with any modern-day musical audience, not least the band of beardy, fixie-riding, vinyl-buying indie hipster brothers I can most identify with, but I don't care: that drum solo absolutely blew my mind as a kid and it still does.        

So it was unfortunate that growing up, David Bowie's music was nowhere to be seen - well, almost nowhere to be seen.  Bowie did have a massive influence on my childhood, albeit not an altogether musical one.  To me, Bowie was the genuinely sinister crystal ball-twizzling Jareth in Jim Henson's Labyrinth, released in 1986 - the year I was born. 

It was my favourite film as a kid, mixing horror, fantasy, mystery, adventure and pure heart in a way that really captured my young imagination.   Jim Henson's visionary work brings the goblin world to life, creating a warmth to the puppetry that CGI has never been able to match - a fact that I'm sure leaves Jim Henson spinning in his grave.   Bowie plays a massive part in making Labyrinth the classic that it's become.  On paper, Jareth the Goblin King is a silly pantomime villain: an androgynous, leotard-wearing eighties parody with fluffy hair and make-up, but Bowie's portrayal is unsettling because it isn't outwardly aggressive and doesn't succumb to baddie stereotypes.  He is a strange, enigmatic creature - tricky, playful and manipulative rather than all-out evil.  In lieu of the true horror icons I would later go on to watch, Bowie was as close to my childhood image of villainy as I got to as a pre-teen.  Childhood nostalgia and sadness for the passing of a great icon may be clouding my judgement slightly, but I am tempted to say that all these ingredients make for a perfect childhood film. 

So this is to David and to Ziggy, but mostly to Jareth: rest in peace, my Goblin King.      



  1. Nice piece on Bowie / Jareth, Tom. By coincidence we bought Labyrinth on DVD today. We used to have it on VHS back in the day and it was always a favourite. Bowie was never a great actor( Cracked actor? )but his role as the Goblin King has a certain thatrical, camp charm. Not sure about the leotard, though...

  2. Thanks, Simon! Now that is a coincidence. Perhaps the energy of your purchase floated over to me. I had originally intended this post to be a roundup of what I've been listening to over the course of this month, but writing about Bowie soon became the post's main priority. I wanted to do a piece about Bowie, but know very little about his music career, so I just wrote about what I knew. I don't think anyone can go very wrong if they write about what they know.


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