Vague ramblings

Rebels, heroes and genies

Posted in Life, Music, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 11 January, 2016

When my radio alarm went off at the top of the hour, as it does, it jumped, as it does, straight into the news headlines. David Bowie has died. After maybe 20 seconds I rolled over and turned the radio off. It wasn’t – as it often is – irritation at the increasingly fatuous nature of modern journalism, but because my mind filled with this:

At that moment, I really didn’t want to think about that. But it is later in the day now.

Some time in the late 1990s – so when I was living in Docklands with my then-girlfriend – we were watching Top of The Pops 2, which sliced and diced TOTP appearances from across the entire run of the show. And this performance came on, in full Ziggy Stardust flow. Mick Ronson sharing the mic, TOTP deploying its amplifier-in-the-back-pocket, lip-syncing style.

And I realised that I remembered seeing it the first time round. Bowie and Ronson, arm-in-arm, sharing the mic. Then I worked out that, when I saw it for the first time, I hadn’t even started secondary school.

For the first time in my life, at the wrong end of my 30s, I felt something other than young. The impact was much too complex to summarise as either positive or negative, and it is not the only thing from my past that has popped up to stir my emotions. But it was sobering.

Artists can never know the full impact their work has. It can be at the individual level, like my unscheduled sobriety. But it can be much bigger, like the song that was – nominally – a poem to West Berlin youth’s penchant for making out at the Wall in full view of the East German watch towers, which became something much more potent. And you don’t have to take my word for that:

And, lest you think this a wistful whim of the German FO’s Twitter team, then Germany’s foreign minister put that to bed:

This dimension was exemplified by the years David Bowie spent in Berlin during the 1970s, when he recorded his song “Heroes” in the legendary Hansa Studios, a homage to Berlin at the height of the Cold War and a soundtrack of the divided city.

“Genie”, in its French form, génie, translates as “genius”. Pop stars, we were told in our rebellious youth, wouldn’t be remembered as the old singers were.

Ha!

I’d be willing to bet that Heroes will be played a lot in Berlin tonight.

 


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