Monday, 11 January 2016
Old Music: David Bowie - Little Wonder
To put in context my level of ‘fandom’ with Bowie: I own just 6 of his albums. I’ve seen him live once (more of that in a while). I’ve listened to the majority but not all of his material thanks to streaming services (I even made it all the way through the frankly terrible late 80's Tin Machine LP once, although never again). Blackstar was the first new album of 2016 I listened to (last Friday on Spotify). So I’m not by any means a huge devotee, but there’s no doubt I have massive admiration for him as an artist. Bowie was unarguably one of the most important musicians (and fashion icons) the world of rock and pop has ever seen. As a music fan it's impossible not to appreciate his significance as both a creator and an inspiration to others and if you're unable to do that then there are frankly huge gaps in your musical education.
When an important musician dies, fans will often discuss their favourite work of that artist. I wonder how many people have waxed lyrical about their most loved Bowie record or song today? So here’s mine.
No it’s not Space Oddity, Starman, Heroes, Ashes To Ashes, Sound & Vision or even one of the songs where Bowie got a new hairdo, put on a pastel coloured suit and became a stadium rock star (Modern Love, Let’s Dance or China Girl). Instead it’s a song that references and names the seven dwarves in Snow White, blasts you with the frenetic beats of old-school drum n bass (but with a very melancholy vocal delivery), features a load of modified synthed up guitar sounds and had a video that found aliens, giant eyeballs and (at the end) Bowie doing what all great pop stars need to do (see here for an explanation) - getting in the bath, albeit standing up fully clothed. It was also the song that introduced the album Earthling (complete with Bowie’s iconic Alexander McQueen designed Union Jack coat).
I saw Bowie perform Little Wonder at the now defunct Phoenix Festival near Stratford-upon-Avon in the 90’s, on a bill that also included superb performances from Bjork, Massive Attack and The Manic Street Preachers. He started with one of the most understated headline festival walk-ons I’ve ever seen; strolling out on stage with no music or build up whilst a member of his crew, who was unaware of the superstar’s entrance, was still checking the microphone. Bowie gave his technician a gentle tap on the shoulder to a huge cheer - the signal that maybe it was time for him to get off stage. And then he started.
And whilst Bowie perfomed some of his classics at that show, the thing I remember most is twitching madly as if I'd had electro-shock therapy to Little Wonder, whilst many older fans looked on somewhat confused – probably just like their dads had when Bowie had first performed Starman in 1972 in a multi-coloured jumpsuit on Top of the Pops with his arm curled around Mick Ronson’s shoulder.
For me this song defines Bowie. Some saw Little Wonder as an ageing rock star’s desperate attempt to jump on a bandwagon to remain relevant. But for me it was simply Bowie continuing to be inspired by everything around him, as truly creative people do. Most importantly it followed the rules of pop on how to make brilliant songs; that is to say it was utterly bonkers, both lyrically and musically.
In 2103 I attended the fantastic David Bowie ‘Is’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with Roberta, the lead singer of ‘blitz-pop’ band Curxes. What I took away from that exhibition, more than anything else, was exactly what I thought about Little Wonder – that Bowie was the master of eclectic remaking. At heart he was always looking to the future.
Music, fashion and culture will be a lesser place without his future seeking multi-faceted vision. RIP David Bowie.
David Bowie - Little Wonder (Video)