Last night these words were going to be devoted to Squeeze for belittling David Cameron. Then this morning it was announced that David Bowie had died of cancer at the age of 69, shortly after releasing his latest album. Blackstar arrived amid swirls of mist and mystery, as was so often the way with Bowie, and has been receiving good reviews.
One song on the new album is called Lazarus, named after the biblical character raised from the dead. Three days ago Bowie’s YouTube channel released a video to the song. Spookily, this opens with Bowie wrapped in bandages in a hospital bed, his eyes covered, singing “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” A good song, too, sung on a slow rise and ending with a saxophone crash.
This final morbid playfulness suggests at least two things. One, that the ever-orchestrating Bowie knew he might die as the last album was released. Two, he isn’t really dead at all, and Lazarus is just another character role, his latest new chameleon self, a scenario that would somehow fit with his enigmatic persona. So many different David Bowies sat inside each other, like the coolest Russian dolls in modern cultural history.
Sadly, that seems not to be the case, with the singer’s publicity company telling Reuters: “It’s not a hoax.”
Ziggy Stardust is filling out the silence as I write, the only Bowie CD readily to hand; perhaps I should rifle through the vinyl collection when it ends.
Such news is now filled out on social media with the thoughts of the famous alongside those of anyone and everyone. Marc Almond, the 1980s singer and belter out of songs, puts it well on Twitter this morning: “It’s not often I truly cry at the loss of an artist but I’m devastated. He meant to much. Goodbye David Bowie and your youth. We loved you. X”
Ziggy Stardust has risen and fallen – man and album too, 11 songs long and over sooner than you thought.
Bowie hadn’t performed in public since 2004, when he suffered the beginnings of a heart attack while performing on stage in Germany. Following an emergency angioplasty for an acutely blocked artery, he disappeared from live performance, and behaved mysteriously to the last, releasing albums no one knew were coming, emerging from a cloud of otherness with a musical statement, before disappearing again.
Bowie never toured after that brush with mortality, although he did bow out of live shows with three songs at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006. After that he withdrew to become part of his own mystique, veiled in myths and self-creation; singer, actor, artist, sometimes sublime, occasionally madly disappointing (Dancing In The Street with Mick Jagger being a bit of a nadir), but always somehow Bowie. And a totem too for the dispossessed and the outsider, especially for the sexually ambiguous.
Now we can all argue over his greatest moments. Was it Ziggy Stardust, androgynous and rake thin; or the dance-pop of Let’s Dance? Whatever you choose, Bowie remained relevant and interesting, even when he wasn’t being relevant and interesting, so successful had be become at being David Bowie, an ever-changing creation, an enigma wrapped in whatever inspired him in the moment.
How impossible that he could be gone.
As for Squeeze, always loved that band – and love them just a little bit more after yesterday.
On The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Squeeze did the musical turn. Prime minister David Cameron was forced to look on as the band performed an altered version of their new song Cradle To The Grave. Glenn Tilbrook sang a new verse: “I grew up in social housing, part of what made Britain great, there are some here who are hell-bent, on the destruction of the welfare state.”
A delightful moment and one worth seeking out.
I got to know Squeeze in my London days. Thirty years ago, Glenn Tilbrook rang me at the South East London Mercury to suggest the newspaper join him in organising an I Ran The World event on Blackheath. And so we did, adding a few Heath trotters to the estimated near 20 million runners around the world who did a sponsored jog for Sport Aid.
Strangely, that event seems to have escaped the grasp of Google. But somewhere in our dusty archives there is a photograph of me running that race.
In a long and intermittent career, Squeeze have been both a band to cherish, and our greatest overlooked band. Their new album shares the name with that Cameron-mocking song, and it is a happy return to form.