The Day the Music Died

Last night the incomparable Ian McMillan compered the TS Eliot Prize nominees reading their poems at the Royal Festival Hall. Since Celia introduced me to this wonderful event, it has been a fixture in my Januarys. Tonight the winner will be announced at the V&A. One of the poems was about the Day the Music Died, when the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were all killed in a 'plane crash.

It wasn't something that affected my life, as I wasn't that long out of the womb. Later I enjoyed Buddy Holly, who I always associate with Jimmy Ruffin as I was introduced to their music at the same time when my sister borrowed albums by both of them from a friend; and I have seen the musical twice, but he was always someone who spoke to a generation before mine.

Popular music provides the soundtracks to our lives, takes us back in an crotchet to places and times we had all but forgotten. The lyrics articulate our angst, our anger, our love, our hope. Never underestimate the power of popular music to glue your memories together, to create shared bonds with people.

Today the music died again. I heard about it via Instagram, and had an elongated 'this doesn't make sense' moment because only the other week I read an article about his new album, released just this weekend. It talked about him being reclusive, spending time with his young daughter in the privacy of their home. So the implication that David Bowie was dead didn't add up.


But it is true. I turned away from the news when they started asking teenagers who were gurning at the camera what Bowie meant to them. I had more in common with the man who said you never feel old when you listen to Bowie because it takes you back decades and sounds as good as it did when you first heard it.

Space Oddity wasn't my favourite, but my little cousin Russell, barely out of nappies when it was released, adored it, and it was seldom off the turntable in my Aunt's pub. It was Ziggy Stardust that grabbed me, and then I dived backwards to Hunky Dory and sideways to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Bowie was an important rock of my teenage musical education, and like earlier influences – The Beatles, Stones and Kinks – I have continued to listen to this music all my life.

I saw him live in his Ziggy phase, and it changed my expectations of rock concerts for ever. Someone nicked my Ziggy album when I flat shared, so I only have the CD now. Hunk Dory, Aladdin Sane, Heroes; they are all on vinyl.

A friend and I once got rid of a couple of bores who were trying to pick us up by reciting Bowie lyrics. We had similar success with Shakespeare too.

So thanks David and William, though probably not what either of you had in mind for your work. I'll be listening to you and reading you for a long time yet. And if I do end up with dementia and in a care home, I hope it's Bowie they are playing to jog my memory and not the Osmonds.



17 thoughts on “The Day the Music Died

  1. Hear, hear to all you say Isobel. I too was stunned by the news today. Like you, Bowie defines so much of my life just because he was current ‘in the day’. I have spent a good deal of today – while driving, washing up, etc – thinking which of his tracks would class as my favourite. A hard choice, as each one conjures up so many things or people. Eventually I decided it was this one:

    This evening someone in Bermuda has been telling me of the times Bowie spent there, living quietly in a beautiful place with beautiful gardens.
    He was quite something.

    • He grew up and we grew up. His interests widened and so did ours. So each phase of life there is a Bowie song or album. I’d probably choose Changes for my mid teens, then move on through Life on Mars, Drive In Saturday, Time, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes, Rebel Rebel, Let’s Dance, and so on.

  2. PS – Yes, I think that needs to be writ somewhere large and public! ‘When I am old and brimful of dementia, play Bowie, Dylan, Pink Floyd, the Stones, Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin – NOT the Osmonds or anything like them!’

    • This is something that exercises me quite a bit since Mother was in the care home and I heard the music and saw the pictures they thought might stimulate someone in her age group. Not a big success in her case.

  3. I was born a little too late to appreciate his earlier work but his Let’s Dance concert at Murrayfield in 1983 was the first I’d ever been to so there is a lasting memory of him for me there.

    The latest single and video were created in full knowledge of what was to pass.

    (I’d not object to Crazy Horses myself :-D)

    • There is something about hearing the music when it is first released that is special. it places you and your contemporaries together at that time, though the places may be widely different.

      You can the whole Osmonds wing to yourself!

  4. I am too shocked and saddened today, he did indeed provide the soundtrack for my generation. It was Bowie who made it okay to be different and to reinvent yourself. He will be much missed but never forgotten as his art will live on…

  5. It would seem he left us as he wanted to – with a parting gift of music and positive energy, Can’t say I was an album collector but he is so very much part of the soundtrack of the last 40 years, His curiosity and thoughtful reflection on creativity was much appreciated. I suppose it may be pedestrian, but I’d go with ch-ch-changes.

    Rocker girl – fool be he who tries to recover your memories using the Osmonds.

    • On radio 4 they played part of an interview with him from some years ago where he said he wasn’t worried about aging, but he didn’t like the idea of death.

  6. One of my favourite moments during the coverage in the last 24 hours is hearing about an email exchange:

    Email to David Bowie on his 57th birthday:
    “Isn’t it time you got a proper job? Ricky Gervase, Comedian”.

    “I do have a proper job. David Bowie, Rock God”

  7. Let’s Dance, Golden Years, Fame, Space Oddity. It was Bowie all through college. I just learned yesterday that Fame was co-written with John Lennon… interesting. So sad to hear this yesterday.

    • Golden Years! Fame! I had forgotten those two. And Young Americans. And how about Fashion?

      It’s a pretty good track (unintended pun) record. Not bad for an epitaph.

  8. A fine tribute. For some reason (the mournful quality, perhaps) I first turned to the Seu Jorge Bowie covers that West Anderson used in “The Life Aquatic.” Among the enduring qualities of his music are the broad appeal and the many directions his songs can be taken. He was a bit (just a smidge) before my time/musical awakening, but his influence is everywhere…and not just in music.

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