Quite literally, a world-shattering event. On Monday, it seemed that the entire day’s news was dedicated to one of the most well-loved figures of modern times. He was a man who many of us had grown up with, and in turn, he with us. His name was known throughout the globe and his music and image, in one way or another, inspired and influenced us all. His achievements affected us all in some way, even if we didn’t know how. He was one of those rare people who can truly be called an artist. He was a creator and an innovator. He pushed the boundaries. He taught men how to show their female side. He was a writer, singer, performer, actor and fashion icon—but he meant so much more to so many people. He embodied a way of life. He taught us not to be afraid of being individual. The music he gave us will surely stand the test of time, but also he showed us how to be a real star.
I remember the first time I heard a David Bowie song on the radio. It was “Space Oddity.” I immediately loved it. It appealed to my fascination for science fiction and everything outer space, and almost everyone I knew could identify with the quirky stylophone solo. The space race was in full swing; the moon landing had just taken place, and here was a record that brought the theme into pop culture.
Then he released The Man Who Sold The World, which I’ll admit I missed at first—but I loved “The Supermen.” I really rediscovered Bowie on Hunky Dory. It didn’t sound much like Space Oddity, but I loved “Oh You Pretty Things,” “Andy Warhol” and “Life on Mars?” with its haunting piano intro played by Rick Wakeman of Yes. Those were my favorite tracks.
But then came the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust—a total game changer for me and all my arty friends at school. Suddenly, anyone who liked Bowie or Roxy Music was classed a puff. Bowie had inadvertently created what would become known as the “glitter” period of pop. At school we were picked on, punched and taunted for liking a man who had dyed red hair, wore make-up and looked like a woman. I couldn’t understand how anyone could not like his music. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. I knew the music was brilliant and they could all fuck off. Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie” blew everyone’s minds, and even those who had ridiculed us finally succumbed to the fashion of wearing platform shoes, high-waisted flares and the occasional bit of mascara.
When musicians like Sweet, Mud and Gary Glitter took over the glitter era, Bowie realized he had to escape. His final tour as his glitter alter ego Ziggy Stardust was a tragic blow—we thought it was all over. But then David came back with his chaotic production on The Stooges’ LP Raw Power and his own concept album Diamond Dogs, and then presented a completely new image on his first live record, David Live. Bowie in a suit? That fucked us all. Everyone went out and bought suits. We grew up with Bowie and he grew up with us and saved us all from boredom.
His following albums, Young Americans and Station to Station, caused friction among hardcore Ziggy fans. He was selling out to the Americans. We had no idea he had become a coke addict and probably didn’t really care; it was the music that was important. There was a pause in activity and rumors about his drug addiction and his travels with the Trans-Siberian Express before he released the Low album, which he had recorded in France and Berlin. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that album was to have a profound effect on my on my life. Bowie caused controversy with his trip to Berlin when he was accused of being a fascist for wearing a black shirt, but he was merely playing with the stereotype image the British had of the Germans.
Low was an incredible piece of work, especially the second, instrumental side. It was synthetic and dark and it conjured up images of Berlin and Eastern Europe. I wanted to know more about Berlin, but no one I knew had ever been there. All we knew was that it was the place where the war had ended and it was surrounded by a bloody big wall. So why did Bowie move there? No one went to Berlin and it certainly wasn’t known for being a musical city. I was really intrigued. I was already into Krautrock and German electronic stuff and had visited Germany in search of records, but when Bowie recorded Heroes with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp in Berlin, I was fascinated. I played it to death. From that moment, I was determined to see what the city had to offer.
Bowie had gone there to escape the drugs and claustrophobia of LA and found he could be free there. He could do normal things like go shopping and no one cared. He discovered himself in Berlin, and the albums he made there are probably the most innovative of his career. From that point on, every artist worth his salt had to execute a stint in Berlin—including me.
I moved from Britain to Berlin in 1978. Much to my disappointment, I arrived a few months after Bowie had left the city, but I got to meet a lot of people who had hung out with him while he was in town, and I even got to see his vacated flat just the way he had left it. I was quite surprised by that, too, as it wasn’t the trendy, artistic dwelling I had expected from a creative of his stature. It looked very normal, very working-class Berlin, with ‘70s patterned wallpaper and a cheap carpet. That just added to the mystique. Without question, Bowie left his mark on this city like no other artist. His presence finally put Berlin on the musical map and made it a fashionable place. That is his legacy to this city and one that continues to this day.
We have David Bowie to thank for many things. I certainly do. You will be missed, but not forgotten.
Click here to read past articles featuring Mark Reeder.
Published January 14, 2016.