Tom Dunne pays tribute to his lifelong hero David Bowie who passed away aged 69
I did suspect something when I heard that lyric on the new album: “And If I never see England’s evergreen, I’m running to. It’s nothing to me. There’s nothing to see.” Was Bowie countenancing never seeing old Blighty again? And was he accepting that fact? Contemplating the end? I wondered. I hoped not.
I found myself strangely moved though. There was a little tear. Imagine a world without Bowie? Imagine my world without Bowie? I simply couldn’t. I tweeted, jokingly that I loved three things: my wife, my children and David Bowie, but not necessarily in that order. I was joking of course, but still…
The last track on the album had a mouth organ part that reminded me of my favorite Bowie track, an instrumental called ‘A New Career in a New Town’ from the Low album. I used to listen to it before all major exams. It was my pre-exam ritual. It evoked for me a car pulling out into the traffic of life, joining that exciting flow. I loved it.
And so we listened to albums Low and Black Star for the weekend. I inflicted it on the kids. And Sunday night – after Bowie special on radio - we made Margaritas, my wife Audrey and I, and listened to both again and I told her, that Bowie had been a part of my life for an incredible 40 years. 40 years!
He was the first act I discovered myself, without help from older siblings. I loved Ziggy, but in 1977, with Punk in the ascendency, I bought Low in a record shop at The Dandelion Market. I remember it like yesterday. I almost bought instead an album by Stephen Bishop with Little Italy on it. I stood looking at both sleeves, pocket money in hand. How different life could have been.
My life after was bookmarked by Bowie releases: Heroes for my Leaving Cert, Ashes to Ashes for my first job, his appearance with Bing Crosby for a magic Christmas at home, his jaw-dropping performance with Queen on Under Pressure for an exam nearly failed! He was just the coolest.
And then one day in the early 90s, I too was in a band and we were rehearsing at a studio in town. Stopping for lunch I ordered a nice sandwich in the canteen and added at the end “and a cup of tea.” And a voice beside said, “And I’ll have a cup n’all.” It was the voice of David Bowie. I turned. It actually was David Bowie!
I said a polite hello, but I couldn’t do as every fiber of my body wanted me to do. I couldn’t fall at his feet and tell him I loved every twist of his DNA. I had to maintain the pretence that we were both simply working musicians stopping for tea! He sat at the next table with Tin Machine. They were maintaining the same pretence.
I went to his Baggot Inn gig later that night. I went to his Olympia show and then in 2003 I went to his Point show, with Irish guitarist Gerry Leonard playing in his band. The end of Life on Mars that night was special. There was a standing ovation. But just as it seemed about to end, it started again. And this time it didn’t seem to be for the song, it seemed to be for him personally, and all the things he meant to so many of us.
Bowie stood there that night simply enjoying the outburst of love. It seemed to move him. It went beyond simple ‘this is a great gig’ applause. Many people were crying. It was as if we all knew how special this man was to us, how he added magic to our lives and we wanted to let him know. He eventually made a joke saying ‘There are other songs to come, ya know?’ or something similar. It was wonderful.
The Next Day was a completely unexpected gift three years ago. And such a surprise! There will not be many days that Chris O’ Donoghue can break the news to me of a major album release. Even on that album you could see his fascination with the passing of time and our diminishing powers. It too was wonderful.
It spoke of the time when we were kings, when our world was young and full of possibilities, and when David Bowie had come into our little homes from Top of The Pops and told us that there was a Starman waiting in the sky. It was the news we had all wanted! That appearance launched a thousand bands.
I still can’t quite believe he is gone. Today will live in my memory for a long time. I was making school lunches when I heard my wife saying to the girls, “I have to talk to Daddy.” She walked in and said, “There’s something going on with Bowie.” At the same time I looked down at my phone (on silent) and saw too many missed calls for it to be good news. A day we have dreaded has come. We love you David, and we always will.
You can listen to Bowie's rendition of Heroes from his Dublin gig in 2003: