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Expert Comment: Ashes to ashes

David Bowie Monday 11 January 2016

As the music world mourns David Bowie, Tutor in Social Enterprise and Innovation Tony Bradley reflects on one of the industry’s most influential characters.

It was a strange and eerie moment – as if sound and vision were merged. It almost made me crash my car. I leaned back on my radio, as if all the young dudes had shifted Radio 4 to Radio 1, like a station to station. The Today programme presenters veered wildly from the top news about a meeting of Anglican primates, to decide ch ch ch changes to the worldwide Church, to come back like a wave of faze, delivering a fashion statement.

“We are just hearing the news that was released twenty minutes ago, that David Bowie has died at the age of 69, from cancer”. I was stunned.  I pulled over onto the hard shoulder. I had to phone someone so I picked on the person who, six times five years ago, I said ‘Be my wife’.  All that came out was “I feel like I’m in quicksand. The man who fell to earth is dead.” She knew. “You mean the Jean genie?” “Is there life on Mars?, I countered. “He was the man who sold the world”. “The golden years are over” is all I could splutter.  “When you get home, let’s dance”. I hung up.

One of the first tributes to come in was from my old friend and colleague, from Coventry, Justin Welby (now, the Archbishop of Canterbury): "I'm very, very saddened to hear of his death," the archbishop told the BBC. "I remember sitting listening to his songs endlessly ... and always really relishing what he was, what he did, the impact he had." We are the same age. Justin has had slightly more fame. But, it took me right back to my room in 47 Ferndale Road, Wavertree, with Ziggy Stardust posters on my wall, also having Starman on gramophone replay. 

Justin must have had many other things on his mind today, not least issues of gender, sexuality and the future of his entire Communion. Yet, the gender-bending, androgynous, post-modern, metrosexual rebel rebel thin, white Duke remained one of his heroes. There may not come a time when one of us clergy gets to say “ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” over the Space Oddity. Maybe someone else will issue the words of his more wild is the wind version: “ashes to ashes, funk to funky…”

Why should a lecturer in entrepreneurship and social innovation comment on this news conjunction?  Well, because Bowie was a Moonage Daydreamer, the most original genius and social innovator.  For many who didn’t get his continual ability to re-invent the meaning of avant-garde, he was an insane lad, a rock-and-roll suicide.  But he was always dancing to a new tune.  It isn’t true that he never looked back.  His lyrics often poked fun at his own earlier creations.  But, only in order to redefine the meaning of art, not fashion – turn to the left, then turn to the right. 

For many of my generation this is a deeply sad day, when we’ll feel again like absolute beginners. My prayer for the Archbishop and the 39 Primates – as they address their Articles of Faith – is that they may reflect, for at least a moment, on the impact of David Bowie and see that, regarding the future of the Church, it’s no game. None of us wanted to hear of this death. Nor do I, for one, wish to hear of any ashes to ashes moment for The Church. But, of course, God is bigger than all our modern loves and hatreds. And, now, Bowie has met the real Starman – what a thought!

Picture: "David-Bowie Chicago 2002-08-08 photo by Adam-Bielawski" by Photobra|Adam Bielawski - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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