I’m not going to sit here & tell you David Bowie has always been my hero, because it simply wouldn’t be true. It would be an insult to your intelligence & his name to start proclaiming historic love – my cynical nature comes to the fore quite often when I see public mourning, unless I can trust in that person expressing their true feelings rather than looking for attention or wanting to muscle in on the act. Nevertheless, when the news of Bowie’s death broke nearly a year ago, it made me much more emotional than I could ever have anticipated.
If you’re a fan of popular music, I’d argue that you can’t not be a fan of Bowie. He embraced so many genres throughout his career that there really is something for everyone to engage with. I grew up with 60s, 70s & 80s rock – as such, I can’t remember the exact time I first heard one of his songs, so I suppose he’s been at least on the periphery of my life for quite some time. As my favourite band during my childhood & teenage years was Queen, it’s quite possible Under Pressure was my first exposure to Bowie. Not a bad way to start, eh?
I think because I didn’t really pay any attention to newly released music until the early 2000s, I sort of assumed Bowie had stopped in the 80s; I never heard anything post-Let’s Dance on the radio. It was only when Where Are We Now? appeared out of the blue in 2013 that I realised there was a lot that I’d missed. Then it was Blackstar – but no real time for a ‘casual fan’ to get into that before he died. And I, like many others, then kickstarted a mission to get to know his work better & to listen to it more.
I’m certain that, had he still been alive now, my mission would only have been delayed by a few months and begun after seeing Lazarus. I mean, as soon as Jess knew it was coming to London she told me I would have to go… I couldn’t really argue with that! But, mirroring my following of Bowie’s career, I definitely left it super late to see the show for the first time – though this was mostly due to the hideous ticket prices and my 100% losing record on the TodayTix lottery. I’m glad I just snuck it into my 2016 schedule, and I also took advantage of an unexpected free afternoon to make it my first musical of 2017.
Quite often, more abstract shows just aren’t my thing, but Lazarus has really captured my imagination on every level. I love that it’s inspired by a book (The Man Who Fell To Earth), but looks at what happens following the novel’s events; it allows the central character of Thomas Newton to be developed further, whilst being a completely original story. Visually, I don’t think I’ve seen anything that can compete: Tal Yarden’s video design is masterfully projected, and Jan Versweyveld’s lighting design is simply breathtaking. Both of these elements combine with stunning results, particularly in standout number Valentine’s Day.
Some songs have been completely reworked (for example, a now Kraftwerk-esque The Man Who Sold The World), while others are quite faithful to their original arrangements – and three brand new tracks are seamlessly integrated into the collection from Bowie’s back catalogue. The band (nearly always on view in the background) is exceptional.
Three cast members from the original Off Broadway production have come over with the show: Michael C. Hall as Newton, Sophia Anne Caruso as Girl & Michael Esper as Valentine. All are completely outstanding and are a thrill to watch – Esper’s Valentine is dangerously alluring, whilst Hall & Caruso are utterly heartbreaking. The rest of the cast is equally talented, including Amy Lennox as Elly (something of a contrast from Kinky Boots) and Maimuna Memon as Teenage Girl 1 (showing off her vocal prowess again in When I Met You – I first saw her in The Buskers Opera last year and was impressed).
The first time I saw it I was surprised at how emotional certain parts made me – hearing my forever favourite Bowie song “Heroes” performed live as the show came to a close was especially spine-tingling. And both times I sat completely enthralled, gazing in wonder at the sheer artistry of it all.
David Bowie has left an incredible legacy – one that will continue to pay off for some time to come. As I now immerse myself in not only his back catalogue, but all of his artistic output, I do find myself inspired (pretentious as that may sound). I’ve spent what would have been his 70th birthday listening, watching, reading & now writing Bowie, and I don’t think I could’ve made a much better decision.