David Bowie is Cool. Who Knew?

I’m being facetious of course with this title. There is of course a whole generation of people who know very well that David Bowie is cool. Those, who in their early teens in 1972 saw Bowie transform from one hit wonder  to glam star, knew it. Also in the know were those who marvelled at Bowie’s originality a few years later with his  so-called Berlin trilogy of albums of Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. And there were the ultra cool romantics of 1980, who watched in awe as he joined forces with the likes of Steve Strange as the vanguard for a whole new genre.

Bowie's 1977 classic album

Bowie’s 1977 album that launched his Berlin trilogy

But then there’s me. Born in 1972, I was a baby when Ziggy played guitar, a toddler when Bowie was off his mind on cocaine in the US, and starting primary school as he was gazing at the Berlin wall listening to Kraftwerk. For my formative years Bowie had broken the mainstream stadium rock circuit; to the teenage me he was merely a middle-aged, silly-haired bloke, dancing around in his pyjamas with Mick Jagger and dressing like a pixie king in the fantasy backcombing film Labyrinth. To me he was just about as far from cool as it’s possible to be.

Fast forward a fair few years and here I am in my early 40s discovering what I’ve been missing out on. The internet has of course helped. Through Facebook and Twitter friends such as That Petrol Emotion guitarist Raymond Gorman (now with The Everlasting Yeah) I’ve been enthralled by clips of tracks I never knew existed. I’ve also heard those tracks from his past, which I dismissed  for years, in a whole new light.

I’ve also been swotting away as a new Bowie convert by reading The Complete David Bowie, Nicholas Pegg’s weighty, exhaustively detailed but wonderfully written definitive Bowie manual.

So what have I discovered? I’ve discovered that 1971’s Hunky Dory is arguably the greatest pop album ever made. I can’t think of a single album to boast as many great pop songs as this album has, from Changes to All You Pretty Things, the majestic Life on Mars to the ballsy Queen Bitch. He also finds time on the album to cement his influence on the likes of Kurt Cobain and J Mascis with Quicksand, which Mascis’s band Dinosaur Jr were to later cover.

I’ve found that Aladdin Sane is one of the best 1970s rock albums. While I was familiar with Jean Genie, how did the awesome Panic in Detroit or Watch that Man pass me by for so many years?

And as for the Berlin trilogy. These three albums, Low in particular, excude coolness. I’d heard the track “Heroes” before, of course. But I’d never really listened to it until recently. I’d never really heard just how Robert Fripp’s sumptuous guitar effortlessly elevates this song. This particularly surprised me as I was more than happy in my early teens to let Fripp dazzle me with his star turn on Blondie’s 1978 track Fade Away And Radiate.

But on both Low and Heroes in particular there are amazing new songs for me to hear,  as the magpie like Bowie cherry picked his way across genres to create a pair of albums that were wholly unique at a time when other former Glam stars were struggling for credibility amid punk and disco. For example Be My Wife, with the simple lonely video of  a made up Bowie and his guitar, set the template for Blur and Britpop. Always Crashing in the same car, also from Low, has one of the best melodies and riffs I’ve heard, Sound and Vision is just remarkable and on “Heroes” Joe the Lion would surely have been the child version of me’s favourite song if I’d have heard it when it came out.

As Bowie prepares to release his first album of new material in a decade, The Next Day, there will be many more from my generation to realise that this quiffed pixie lord of mainstream 1980s rock is in fact just about the coolest bloke in music. As you can see by my omissions there are plenty more examples of the cool Bowie for me discover. The soul funk of Young Americans and Station to Station, the influential alternative rock of The Man Who Sold The World and Lodger, the third in the Berlin trilogy to name but a few.

by Joe Lepper


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