Saturday, January 23, 2016

The David Bowie I knew, and what it says about me

There's been no end of great (and also rotten) pieces written about David Bowie, but none perhaps as strange as former NME editor Steve Sutherland's bit which appears in the Stratford Herald. Oddly - I suspect as a quirk of a local paper's publishing system - the online version appears under his wife's byline.

It turns out Steve attempted to save Bowie from Tin Machine by sending him a shoegaze mixtape:

Now, knowing his reputation as a magpie, scarfing up other people’s ideas, sprinkling some fairy dust on them and then successfully representing them as his own, I figured Dave might benefit from an earful of some new stuff, so duly made him a cassette.

The tracklisting went something like Lush, Moose, Chapterhouse, Adorable , Slowdive, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Telescopes, Ride — a veritable who’s who of shoegazers making a name for themselves at the time and a line-up I felt sure would top-up Dave’s creative juices.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be! A few weeks after I sent him said tape, I received a very nicely wrapped package which contained a small broken-up jigsaw of Michelangelo’s David. When the pieces were all put in place, there was a message handwritten on the back in, if I recall correctly, green ink, the gist of which went something like, “Thanks for the lovely tape. Not really my cup of tea. Try this instead.” The “this” was a cassette tape of Different Trains, an interminable modern classical piece by avant-garde composer Steve Reich performed by the dreaded Kronos Quartet. Shudder.
It turns out that Steve - by this point having moved from the Melody Maker to the NME - had a bit more luck with the next generation of British indie stars:
My last encounter with Mr Bowie was not long after I took over editing NME. All the staff hated me for reasons we needn’t go into here but I figured — rightly as it turned out — that if I could deliver a journalistic coup, they might come around.

So what I did was arrange for David Bowie to meet Brett Anderson from Suede, who were then the hottest band in Britain. I sat in on and taped their conversation with Brett, being a big fan, asking tons of questions and Bowie, being Bowie, offering up sage avuncular advice about not doing too many drugs like he once did etc.

Again, a fun day made easy by Bowie’s polite and gracious ease in company, and his genuine interest in what Brett had to say.
Brett and Bowie, coming together to save an NME editor. There's surely a Hollywood movie in that?

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