When I was 10 I bought my first album. It was 'Hunky Dory' by David Bowie. This was typical of a mindset, which has endured, in that I stubbornly rarely ever conform to any general consensus, but particularly when it comes to music. I take a salmon like approach. I'd rather walk alone. If I don't discover something myself, then it's not worth listening to. It doesn't mean I'm right of course.
For example, a mate, lets call him Robbie Byrne once of Navan parish, told me that Prince was a genius upon the release of "Around The World In A Day". This worm wasn't for turning. Of course I end up being an absolute Prince fanatic. Have everything he's ever released (plus a lot of what he hasn't released), have traveled abroad to see him play live etc. Godammit I was even part of the NPG fan club and accessed a bunch of on line content (at a price) that was subsequently taken off line by Prince, and the licenses rescinded. I lost a lot of love for Prince at that time. 'Mugged' springs to mind. Having bought expensive ring side seats for the proposed gig in Croke Park a few years ago and then have it cancelled because they had "only" sold 65,000 tickets, moved me further away from the Prince camp (Editors Note; this blog entry was written on Jan 11th and thus before Prince's passing)
I digress. When I bought "Hunky Dory" everyone else was buying "Ziggy Stardust" and participating in the accompanying mania. My sister, Angela, joined the official Bowie Fan Club. It cost 30p in 1972 and you got a membership card, a (pre-printed) welcome letter from David, and a silk sticker.
I joined the "Geordie" fan club instead. Yes, who, you may very well ask. History will at least show that the lead singer of this obscure band went on to front AC/DC (Brian Johnson) and maybe I was prescient in my critical evaluation of his star appeal. All because of you baby, all because of you (go Google that).
Springsteen. Gerry Mee and I saw the video of him singing "Rosalita" from the '78 Darkness tour (the Phoenix Arizona show) on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Stunning. We discussed it the next day at school. Although I went back to my Bowie and Lou Reed albums Gerry went out and bought "Darkness On The Edge Of Town"). Bruce was at least registered with me. He was on the radar but, heck I had too much to do with pouring all my musical love (and money) into buying Bowie, Lou, Iggy, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads etc.
THEN in 1979 when "The River" was released I heard two Cunninghams, not related either to me or each other, going on about the song of the same name. It was seemingly up there with Paul Simons (and Garfunkel, let his place in history be noted) "Sound of Silence" and "The Boxer" because 'The River' was a source of real life perspective particularly the poignancy of the pregnancy storyline. For me this was a "right on" conversation from two Charismatics participants. Springsteen was taken off the radar with haste and deigned not to reappear until mid 1980 when I bought "The Wild, The Innocent" (the album where "Rosalita" could be found, followed by "Nebraska" and another love affair was started. I do though distinctly remember hearing "Sherry Darling" from that album on the radio one day and nearly getting drawn back in.
It was the same with Neil Young. Everyone spoke of him in reverential tones. The music teacher in St Pats (a lovely lady who we were horrible to as a class - I got a minus 3 in an exam once) used to play "Heart Of Gold" and "After The Goldrush". He sounded like a whiny hippy to me. I never engaged because, in a nutshell, I was too immature to appreciate this fine art because it didn't make a big "bang" sound. We were allowed bring a record into class to demonstrate the use of multiple musical instruments in a song. I brought in the live version of "Panic In Detroit" off the "David Live" album, because there were individual guitar, bass, sax and drum solos :).
When Young flipped the bird at Geffen Records in the 80's I respected what he did and went out and bought one of his truly excellent records ("This Notes For You"). How do I know it's one of his excellent records? Because I then went and bought them all dummy!! Can't you see where this is going?
Tom Waits. The piano had indeed been drinking. Aah jaysus, what's going on there? Francis Ford Coppolla (who I wrote to, looking for a job, care of Zoetrope Studios, San Francisco, USA back in 1983) released his movie "One From The Heart". I'd never cried at a movie before and this film did indeed become one TO the heart. To my mind it's the greatest soundtrack album of all time. Up on the bus to Dublin in about 1983, found it in Golden Discs on Talbot Street. Yawn, yes, I do now own all of Tom Waits albums. Sitting second row, center stage in a big tent in the Phoenix Park a few years ago was one of my greatest concert experiences of my life (Blog to follow at some stage).
I'm still digressing. I can digress with the very best of them.
As a child of Irish parents and in an Anglo/Irish Lancashire household roughly located between Liverpool and Manchester, my Mum and Dads record collection, like many immigrants from Ireland, consisted of Joe Dolan and the Drifters, Eileen Reid and The Cadettes and Big Tom and the Mainliners. There was a Noel V Ginnity comedy album (he grew up with my Dad in Kells) and I can remember a Jim Reeves album "Bimbo". But that was it.
I think there was possibly a quiet concern that the young lad was buying records by the (then PR spun) orange haired, bi-sexual bloke who wore dresses ("Mum? What's a buy sexual?"). I did try explaining what the Japanese Kabuki costumes were though. When I was in my teens. Gary Glitter was ok though, at least he made sense...cartoon pop, as catchy as hell, but inoffensive...oh boy.
So, back to "Hunky Dory". With Bowie it was never about the image (ok, on some level it must have been a factor, although I know I was very irritated with that "cockerney accent, hello moy auld plaam" voice he'd put on occasionally. He often looked weird too. No eyebrows. Ah, I'll just play "Queen Bitch" again. Oh yeah.
So how did I find 'Hunky Dory'? In '73 one of my friends brought us around to his house to listen to the new Bowie single, "Starman". It was ok to my ears, but as they liked it (agh!) I asked him to play the B-Side (ask your parents). It was a cover version of a Chuck Berry song "'Round and 'Round". This had a totally different effect on me. It's STILL one of the best performances on record by DB and The Spiders From Mars. The flag went up.
There had been an advert on tv at the time for a publication called the "Encyclopedia of Rock". Two years ago I was able to get a lithograph of the first cover of this magazine which had been reprinted for the "David Bowie Is" event. There's an image of Elvis and Bowie on the cover - the old handing over to the new King Rock.
The tv advert showed snippets of Elvis, Dylan, Beatles, Stones and Bowie. They used a live snip of Bowie in concert but I didnt know what song it was, only that it r-o-c-k-e-d. After swimming in Leigh baths on the following Saturday morning I went into the Redifusion TV/record shop on Leigh main street and skimmed the small selection of Bowie albums trying to figure out what song it was I'd heard? I eventually settled on deciding it was a song called "Changes". So I bought HK.
I think it cost £2 6s. I brought it home and dropped the needle on "Changes". It wasn't the song I'd heard on the t.v. (a few decades later I think the song I heard was either a few seconds of the 2nd part of "Width of a Circle" or a bit of "White Light White Heat"). Irrespective, the die was cast and I quickly became symbiotic with the bloke.
My 10 year old brain tried to comprehend the songs on that record, (indeed I'm STILL trying to get my head around them) but I did as best my limited intelligence, vocabulary and sensibilities could with 'Eight Line Poem', 'Quicksand' or 'Bewley Brothers'. For full disclosure, I wasn't a particularly "cool" kid and the next records I bought (after Roxy Musics "Street Life") were by Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band, and "The Monster Mash".
As contrary as I was to public opinion I didn't buy my next Bowie album until the following year. Refusing to follow the lead of my friends who raved about "Ziggy" and then "Aladdin Sane" (although I sneakingly loved "Jean Genie" (or as The Sweet called it, "Blockbuster"!) my next Bowie record was 'Diamond Dogs' in '74. Then 'David Live'.
It's with abject embarrassment that I put several teenage girlfriends through the Bowie ringer. When they walked away shaking their heads about my continual rabbitting on about all things David, I figured they felt they just couldn't compete for my affections with my idol. I know it had absolutely nothing to do with me being a gobshite. When the next live album, "Stage" was released in 1978, I was thrilled beyond explanation to hear Bowie SPEAK! on these albums. "Thank you very much indeed". Cue faint.
So. Where are we now? The moment you know, you know, you know. One of the saddest weeks of my life. On Nov 26th I got up at 5am to order the new album, Blackstar, on black and on clear vinyl (one of 5000 limited edition copies). I simply can't bring myself to listen to the album. As soon as I heard the news at 7am on Monday the 11th I immediately realized the significance of what the record meant. It was a goodbye.
Maybe if I don't listen to it, there's not going to be a goodbye?