I awoke yesterday to the stunning news of David Bowie’s death. Apparently many of his family and friends, including producer Tony Visconti, knew he was suffering from cancer for a while. Some have, in retrospect, realised that his recent communication with them was a way of saying goodbye. Others hadn’t been in contact in a while and merely offered tributes.
Like much of the wider world, though, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news. Oddly, I had a similar relationship to Bowie as I did to Leonard Nimoy — I obviously never knew him, but he was always just there. I don’t remember the first time I heard ‘Fame’ or ‘Man Who Sold the World’ or ‘Space Oddity’, I just know they were constants throughout my childhood and adult life. My biggest impression was of him in Labyrinth as the Goblin King, probably; at least growing up until I started appreciating music more.
Though I was never a huge fan, but I know plenty of people who were. I always respected his work, but he was not one of the artists that resonated with me. It’s odd, then, that I’m actually using him and his work in my dissertation.
In one of my chapters I discuss the impact of what I term ‘background players’ — including managers, producers, studio musicians and press agents — have on their musical charges. These ‘background players’ are people who are integral in creating and promoting music, but who don’t get their fair share of the credit (generally). There have been a few recent documentaries celebrating these people, like one of the Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals, Who managers Lambert & Stamp and some other things I’ve seen on the BBC, but these pale in comparison to books, movies, articles, documentaries and general praise for the music these people and places helped make famous. So in one of my PhD chapters I investigate the role of people like members of the famed Wrecking Crew and of Tony Visconti. Bowie was always effusive in his praise of his producer, saying that for the Man Who Sold the World album, people should give ‘all credit to Tony Visconti, who produced it’ and who wrote the ‘maniacally sliding bass’. It’s awesome that he said that, and totally deserved, but people still ignore the background players. Still, I respect him for trying.
I spent much of yesterday listening to Bowie, in my own small tribute, as I imagine many people did. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. He inspired too many people, produced such great material and was such a presence in the world — whether people realised it or not, like me — that his spirit will never truly be gone.
I loved that he was willing to try new things, never settling for the same style or theme. He truly transformed the world, from the moment he fell to earth to final liftoff. Goodbye, Major Tom, you’ll be missed.