So it’s ‘Bowie Night’ on BBC4 this evening.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who doesn’t like at least some Bowie. My first proper awareness of him was when my sister bought ‘Aladdin Sane’ in 1973. She played it a lot and even my mum liked it. I was only ten and soon became familiar with every song, every note and vocal inflection, in that way that you do as a child without even realising it. It’s quite possible I may have been heard singing ‘Cracked Actor’, for instance, on the way to the sweet shop to buy my sherbet pips. It was no doubt also the first time I heard (but didn’t understand) the words wanking, quaaludes and incestuous, when Bowie crossed more boundaries in the unsettling theatrical darkness of ‘Time’. (It would be a few years before I assaulted my family’s eardrums with ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ and the explicit lyrics of ‘Bodies’ – but, of course, by then they were unshockable.)
I studied that iconic album cover so many times, wondering about the unreal paleness of his skin and the pool of mercurial-looking substance in the cavity behind his left clavicle. It was only later that I explored his full back-catalogue and added several Bowie albums to my own collection, but 'Aladdin Sane' has always felt like my personal introduction to the man.
In my mid-teens my parents were splitting up and my mum went through another one of her deep bouts of clinical depression. There are, naturally, many memories associated with all of that which I won’t go into here but, weirdly, one of them is 'Aladdin Sane'. My mum started to listen to music a lot during that phase and for some reason she favoured that album. I often heard her playing it late at night, and I admit it was a little disturbing. But there must have been something about it, something that touched her within its varying moods or the way that Bowie expresses his lyrics with a strange mixture of menace and relish – I think it’s both upbeat and downbeat in equal measure. It was quite an insane time and the irony of that album title is not lost on me, but it’s still a record I love – along with a good deal of his other output.
I’m looking forward to tonight’s programmes.