Shocking Us Out of the Ordinary: Why there was no one like Bowie

I thought you might like this:

my Spotify playlist for you

It’s a compilation I put together on the day David Bowie died, aged 69, in New York.

That morning was the first time my eldest daughter Martha, 11, saw me cry. I guess it was the shock: for the first time I am in a world without Bowie, without question the most influential pop artist of my life. The trouble is that even saying something like that you start getting into the kind of hyperbole that led to this tweet:

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That makes it all a bit silly, doesn’t it? So I hope I don’t overstep the mark when I say: I loved Bowie, his originality and his musical talent. His constant desire to shock us out of the ordinary.

I got into him late. I was fourteen in 1979 and this was the LP (the last in his so-called ‘Berlin trilogy’) that transported me away from punk and the pop charts:

Lodger had some bizarre tracks on it. ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ was the single — it’s on my playlist — and was about the most accessible. But for me, growing up in conservative Cheam in Surrey, it was still very, very . . . strange. From Lodger I went voraciously through the back catalogue. I think if I was to recommend one track that tells you what Bowie is about, it would be ‘Station to Station’ from the 1975 album of the same name. It is more than ten minutes long, like a symphony, and the line,

The return of the Thin White Duke,
throwing darts in lovers’ eyes

is classic Bowie: subversive, unusual. Anyway, I think it’s best not to analyse the songs. Bowie wasn’t logical: why should an artist plough straight lines like the world outside? He made me feel, as a teenager, that it was okay to be a nerd. He wore women’s dresses (or, as he put it, “man’s dresses”) in an era when any record company would have told him it was not a look that was going to shift units. His approach to gender — decide your own — is now where we are as a society. But he was there forty years earlier.

He taught me that the effortless happiness exuded by the muscular boys at school who were the best at rugby was not the highest state. I always remember hearing the line in ‘Quicksand’ on his breakthrough LP Hunky Dory,

I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts
And I ain’t got the power anymore

. . . and relating to that as an introspective, bolshy, difficult, slightly troubled teen. Thinking that maybe it was good to be stuck in your thoughts a little. Today I see a different line in Quicksand and think of Bowie himself:

Don’t believe in yourself
Don’t deceive with belief
Knowledge comes
with death’s release.

Rest in Peace, David. You really did change my life and my understanding of the world.


  • Jan says:

    Good work Jeremy I too loved his music I retired early December but was exalted to know that my team where I worked played Bowie all day on hearing the news

  • Ian Stent says:

    Jeremy vine I could kiss you,you some things up so well,there is this core of special people for which music is a real part of life & by music I mean instruments specially guitars,drums music you can fill go right through you music that brings people together.
    I’ll stop I could just keep on going, I’m glad I believe I’m a part of that and by fuck dude you certainly are.
    I phoned in yesterday just to say the piece you fronted about david was really nice & you we’re the right person for that,a fan.
    Well Jeremy cheers bud and keep on doing what you do and do so well.

  • Helen Fox says:

    This is a beautifully written article, Jeremy. Have loved all your tributes including on Radio 2, and the one on TV. It’s so lovely he touched you so much, and so sorry for the grief and pain his passing has caused you. He really was one of the greats of his generation, RIP to a unique, talented and gifted soul that was David Bowie.

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