Whilst David Bowie hibernates in the winter of his fine and distinguished career “nursing his enigma” as Gary Kemp put it, there is no shortage of people trying to coax him out of retirement. Bowie appears to be a rare case of a rock n roller actually retiring (not that he’s announced any such thing – but if you haven’t played a show for eight years you scarcely need to do you?).
More often it’s the record company that makes the decision to try to “retire” an artist – as X-Factor winner Matt Cardle amongst many others will testify. No chance of that with David Bowie.
Mind you, who can blame him? If someone had thrown (and lodged) a Norwegian lollipop in my eye the last time I went to work, I’d be taking a pretty hard look through the HR manual to see when the pension scheme kicked in. After I’d eaten the lollipop. Can’t let a good Chupa Chup go to waste.
Although I first heard David Bowie (and, for that matter, Stevie Ray Vaughan) on Let’s Dance, I wasn’t then aware of his amazing back catalogue. The first time I heard Ashes to Ashes was when Rik sang it on The Young Ones.
I first heard A Space Oddity during a school Drama lesson when I and a clutch of my thirteen year old classmates were asked to act out a scene to the soundtrack of the song. I think my teacher was a big Bowie fan. I’m sure you can picture the scene that would have made Gielgud turn in his grave….
We all acted out being astronauts. There was the “take your protein pills and put your helmet on” line. You can guess the interpretive mime we did for that one (think Legs & Co on Top of The Pops circa 1974). Then there was the countdown bit, where we sat on chairs and made ourselves shake and contort awkwardly, pretending to be pinned back. I think I may have tapped my imaginary helmet at one point as Ground Control asked “Can you hear me Major Tom?” One student lost oxygen and collapsed to the floor, which wasn’t quite in keeping with the song’s narrative and which caused the teacher to roll her eyes skywards in exasperation, or perhaps in prayer…
The trickiest bit was pretending to walk in zero gravity for five minutes. We ballooned around a bit and then I forgot halfway through. When asked why I had sped up my walking in space at the end of the frankly shambolic routine I bluffed that the ship had anti-gravity capability. No-one was impressed.
A Space Oddity is such a stunning song of course. I could have been doing anything and I would have remembered what I was doing when I first heard it. Just like the first time I heard Maria Carey’s version of Journey’s Open Arms (the brick is still lodged in the TV screen to remind me).
A Space Oddity was released in June 1969 at the time of the moon-landings and reached #5 in the UK charts. It took until 1973 before it became Bowie’s first top twenty hit in America and until 1975 before a re-release gave Bowie his first Number One hit single in the UK.
Much of Bowie’s work lends itself to theatre and Bowie himself was interested in mime. However, whilst Bowie enjoyed the theatrical properties of rock n roll, had he been in my drama lesson I suspect he’d have tried to stick a lollipop in his eye and announce his retirement…
Record #104: David Bowie – A Space Oddity