Culture

2017: another Golden Year for Bowie connoisseurs

A year on from his death, nothing influences modern culture like the Dame

BY John McKie   /  6 January 2017

On January 10th, there will the usual round of commemoration of the shocking death of David Bowie.

Except, as came to be customary on Planet Bowie, “usual” doesn’t apply.

Instead, Bowie will be orchestrating the airwaves and charts this weekend as if he was still with us.

On Saturday evening, BBC2 will be screening The Last Five Years, a documentary on the making of his final two albums, The Next Day and Blackstar. Radio 2 are broadcasting a programme on the legend of Life on Mars? on Monday, there are BBC Radio 6 Music programmes dedicated to the Dame from Adam Buxton, Jarvis Cocker and Iggy Pop, as well as a poll of listeners for his greatest record. A musical of his songs, Lazarus, remains at London’s Kings Cross Theatre. His final album Black Star was the best selling vinyl album of the year. And Gary Oldman is overseeing five 70th birthday concerts with many of his band starting at London’s Brixton Academy, a stone’s throw from his neighbourhood.


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This Bowiefication of culture is hardly likely to weaken as 2017 progresses.

It is the 40th anniversary of both Low (released on January 14th, 1977) and “Heroes” (nine months later) and in March, Tony Visconti and Mick “Woody” Woodmansey will be part of the band who’ll play Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in full at Manchester and London gigs, forty-four years after the character of “Ziggy” himself retired.

To judge Bowie by his work alone is remarkable but if, as the adage suggests, you judge a man by the company he keeps, little wonder his legacy has been strengthened.

As befits a man with Frank Auerbach and Marcel Duchamp in his private art collection, Bowie sure liked to collect – talent more than objects. He played with Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Nile Rodgers (these were just the guitarists) and was behind the control booth making records for Lou Reed and Iggy and The Stooges and records with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno among many others. He’s made films for Nic Roeg, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Martin Scorsese and Chris Nolan written songs with Queen and John Lennon and worked with Damien Hirst on a painting in 1995, the same year the Yorkshireman won the Turner Prize.

The master collaborator seemed equally at ease by Bing Crosby’s Christmas tree as he did bantering with Balthus for Modern Painters, being choreographed by Lindsay Kemp as syncing his vocals to Luther Vandross’ backing on the Young Americans album.

So as well as the documentaries to mark his final years or the anniversary concerts, it will be worth keeping an eye on the careers of his muckers. To name just three: the extraordinary jazz drummer on Blackstar, Mark Guiliana, leader of the band Beat Music, Bowie’s bassist of two decades Gail Anne Dorsey whose solo debut The Corporate World was critically lauded but commercially neglected and the principle actor in Lazarus, Six Feet Under and Dexter star Michael C Hall. At rehearsals for the show, Bowie approached Hall and asked not unreasonably “What is it about you and death?”

Lazarus, a kind of imagining of A Man Who Fell out of Earth just after He Made Blackstar, has Bowie’s otherworldly fingerprints on it as does pretty much every shape-shifting rock star, and a fair few film stars, who followed him.

But it is those musicians or artists who can say “I worked with Bowie” who’ll have a guaranteed calling card. This in future is likely to make audiences and critics pay attention.

Why? Because David Bowie was a collector with excellent taste.