11 January 2012
David Bowie's 65th birthday, then. I'm a fan. I didn't really see his influence until I was 18 years old but I'm a fan nonetheless, as best as I can be at least for someone who was an embryo or toddler during his greatest era.
I bow here, however, to my mate Mike. He was a teenager in the early 1970s and grew to adore Bowie from pretty much the moment the chap himself became famous. Mike, when I got to know him in the late 1980s, was the man who taught me about the sentimental value of records and the collectability of certain artists.
Mike was my closest schoolfriend's next door neighbour and his nuttiness for all things Bowie is evident around his entire house. Pictures everywhere give the game away to anyone who makes it into his living room but if you are permitted to delve deeper, you'll find more. This is a man who wishes to own every recording, in every format, via every nation, that there is. We'd go to record fairs - I haven't been to one for years but for a couple of years in the late 80s/early 90s I was obsessed with them - and he'd be looking for the Venezuelan edition of Fashion or Diamond Dogs on limited 10" vinyl while I, with no artist to obsessively collect, bought singles that I knew our local hospital radio station didn't have in its library. More often than not, he'd always find that elusive thing he was seeking too.
When you saw his collection it was eye-watering. Every album would have two copies; one for playing, one for carefully storing away, wrapped in sellophane, to be untouched for the duration of his life. Each of these albums would be in vinyl and cassette; each would have separate issues depending on special editions available and the countries they were available in. Around this period, he was also in the process of adding everything on CD too. Then there would be every single, again in every format, again from every country he could find a copy from. His collection was incomplete by his standards - I expect it always would be - but he never stopped trying.
He had reels and reels of Revox, featuring Bowie sessions from Radio 1 in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as interviews and live concerts. Every book ever printed, every magazine article he could find, every bit of fan club memorabilia, every concert ticket. Concert tickets for gigs he was physically and financially incapable of attending but had purchased through sources afterwards. And all of this, by the way, before the internet. I haven't been to his house for many years but I almost dread to think what Bowie-related stuff he now owns courtesy of eBay and newsgroups.
But his prized possession wasn't something Bowie had made or recorded, it was something he had held.
Mike went to many a Bowie gig in the UK, obviously. At one such gig, the great man lit a cigarette onstage and, realising it was the last one, chucked the empty Marlboro packet into the crowd. Mike caught it. It remains to this day - probably 25 years now, maybe more - in his display cabinet, symmetrically between the wine and brandy glasses. Its presence means every visitor will ask about it and he gets the pride of being able to tell.
Everything is insured for thousands, and Mike claims it will all be buried with him, though I expect he is joking on that last point. I wouldn't actually disbelieve him 100 per cent though. I really wouldn't.
He has a wife, three grown up kids and now a grand-daughter too. His obsession has, for all its time consumption, never been to the detriment of his family life and his wife, also a Bowie fan of the era, has just taken it as part of the package. He does like other music too; at the time I knew him I was beginning to discover T Rex, as mentioned here, and he showed me his not unsubstantial T Rex album collection, while adding that somewhere in his loft or cellar was a grainy recording of Bowie's appearance on Marc Bolan's final TV show prior to his road accident.
Ask him about other artists in his collection and he'll relate them to Bowie. Got any Queen? Yep, Under Pressure. How about Mott The Hoople? All versions of All The Young Dudes. The Rolling Stones? Only Mick Jagger and some other geezer doing Dancing In The Street. Pet Shop Boys? There's Hallo Spaceboy, right there. Bing Crosby? Oh now, come on, you know that slightly awkward Christmas recording is going to be in a cupboard at Mike's place somewhere. Samantha Mumba? Well, she wouldn't normally fall under his radar, but one of her biggest hits did sample Ashes To Ashes quite heavily. And, naturally, all of the above are in all formats, from all countries, etc etc.
I still see Mike occasionally as, until a recent bout of ill health, he was a taxi driver in Hull. As pleasant and as cheerful a man as I've ever met, and he remains living proof that if a single rock star is worth it in your eyes, no ridicule or raised eyebrows from anyone is going to halt that. My first memory of Bowie is Let's Dance, an album Mike - like all "proper" Bowie fans - sees as a clinical and technically impressive work rather than anything truly reflecting what Bowie was about. Though of his 1980s output, he does like the Tonight album, and from it, Blue Jean. And so do I.