There's a Starman Waiting in the Sky

Like many of you, I heard news of the passing of David Bowie this morning. Now, you surely don't need me to convince you of the Thin White Duke's genius. In an industry where so many mark time with rehashed versions of their youthful selves, Bowie's maverick spirit and restless innovation stood apart. Even his missteps were noteworthy and at times, wildly popular (hello, "Let's Dance").

Given the sincere admiration expressed above, you might find it odd that I've never seriously connected with Bowie's music. Perhaps I've not ventured deep enough. My familiarity is that of a casual fan who quite likes some of his most famous songs ("Space Oddity," "Young Americans" and "Golden Years" among them). On reflection, I can see what's held me back. A cursory scan of his early '70s material reveals two major touchstones: glam rock and show tunes, neither of which have ever spoken to me in any way. In his subsequent career he ventured far beyond both, of course, but first impressions count, especially in the psyche of a music-obsessed preteen. As such, I never got into Bowie. I do, however, have musician friends whose tastes I respect immensely for whom Bowie was their Bob Dylan.

When an icon dies I like to pay tribute in some small way, so your friendly neighbourhood folk 'n' roller is working up a version of "Starman" for acoustic guitar and harmonica. And ironically, it's only in doing so that I've come to appreciate the complexity and sheer artistry of Bowie's work. "Starman" is an impeccably crafted, deceptively catchy number that's in fact rather difficult to play. (I settled on "Starman," by the way, after trying half a verse of "Life on Mars" and giving up. Even "Space Oddity" was too tricky.)

Last word: for those of us who scoffed at show tunes, androgyny and glam, my 11-year-old self included, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane will no doubt be esteemed and appreciated a hundred years from now. The same can't be said for much of the pile-driving pop/rock of the day, including some of my childhood favourites.

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Photographs by Carol Witwicky. Instrument illustrations and GZ logo © 2017 Grinning Zone Studios.
Album and lyrics page artwork © 2017 Gabriel Altrows. Web design by Vern Nicholson.
Sour Landslide and Benvereens archival footage courtesy Neil Whitlock.
All pages and contents © 2017-2019 Vern Nicholson.