FAREWELL David Bowie from a longtime Bowie fan: RIP

David Bowie Blackstar RIP

Great planning, David

So THAT’S what Blackstar was about. David Bowie, who died yesterday aged 69 after a long illness, said farewell in the most eloquent, meaningful and stylish way possible with his last album released only days ago. He left his fans a valuable parting gift that will speak to us for as long as there’s music and human beings to listen to it.

We did a collective “Aaah” as we learnt the worst and realised he was talking to us beyond his mortal death; Blackstar is a letter to us written over the 18 months since he was told that the cancer he’d been diagnosed four years ago would kill him in a year. (The exact timeline of his illness isn’t quite clear at the moment of writing.)

Last night, the night he died, journalist Charles Shaar Murray and I were grooving to the CD which had just arrived. It’s deeply saddening to know we were dancing along to it even as he took his last breath. However, now that we do, a whole new dimension has opened up where we can still be with him, fathoming the unfathomable, working out his puzzle, reading the hieroglyphs he left us.

David entered my life before I even hit puberty and has never left. I was transported to heaven in 1969 by his single Space Oddity and again when it was re-released in 1972. My cousin bought me a cassette of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and I never looked back.

Ziggy kid and lifelong Bowie fan

If you were a dreamy, creative kid who didn’t fit in, David was your guide, big bruv and your own personal Starman. It wasn’t just that he was supernaturally gorgeous: he exuded love and that’s what we valued. Of course, I know he was a chameleon who you could project yourself into and onto but I won’t call him a blank canvas because he was anything but blank. He had the ability to hook out your innermost best and make it fly.

And the music …

He gave shape to the inchoate and told us ‘Oh no, love, you’re not alone’. It’s hard not to embrace that when you’re convinced that you are.

‘Life on Mars’ made me cry because I was the girl, maybe not with the mousy hair, but with the dysfunctional family in a world of which I was desperately trying to make sense. David was steering me from a sunken dream to the seat with the clearest view, and I was indeed hooked to the silver screen which was my escape.
‘Her mummy is yelling no,
and her daddy has told her to go.’
Okay, it was actually the reverse, but parental rejection was so familiar to me that for a long time this was MY song.

A major part of David’s appeal was that he was looking up at the stars away from the sailors fighting in the dance hall and wondering if there was life on Mars way above the daily turmoil. The highest note in the song is that soaring MA-A-ARS at the peak of the chorus that lifts you into another realm of consciousness, like he’s waking you up and leading the way out. And we eagerly looked up there with him. In ‘Blackstar’ he’s doing it again, still our leader — well, more pioneer than leader — but with us quivering in fear behind him as he prepares to make his final journey.

I’d dance myself into a Rite of Spring frenzy to ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Width of a Circle’. I felt the torment of the singer in ‘John, I’m only Dancing’ being drawn to someone he shouldn’t, and behind it all, that guitar that could wail and chuck out a stomping rhythm. On TV, ‘Starman’ introduced us to David’s blonde guitar-toting sidekick, Mick ‘Ronno’ Ronson, who was also the recipient of our powerful young emotions. I can remember most of the lyrics up to and including the Diamond Dogs album even when I can’t remember what I had to eat last night.

Bowie-Ronson-Starman-TOTP

I missed the legendary Rainbow gig where his mentor, mime artist Lindsey Kemp, shared the stage and Roxy Music was the support act, but I was determined to make up for it when more London dates were announced. Under age I may have been but I was a girl on a mission. I bussed it from Mare Street in Hackney and queued overnight at the Kilburn State Gaumont and the Hammersmith Odeon in order to secure front-row centre seats.

We early birds at the head of the queue bonded tightly, guarding each other when we went to pee under Hammersmith Bridge, saving each other’s places in the queue and sharing provisions. It’s lovely to watch the DA Pennebaker film of the final Ziggy gigs and spot everyone forever young and filled with love. (I can be seen briefly during ‘Width of a Circle’.)

The build-up was spectacular. David’s frocks annoyed the hell out of elderly relatives when his photos were published in the tabloids, confirming to us that he represented something a world apart from their rigidly oppressive minds. At Hammersmith we buzzed with anticipation. Someone read out a piece in the NME about David announcing he was retiring, shock, horror, the first time I ever heard the name of the journalist, Charles Shaar Murray.

Quick, there might not be enough of him to go round. But thankfully there was.

We all dressed up. There were all sorts of variations on David’s iconic haircut and Angie Bowie’s platinum white do. Angie was Bowie royalty, being married to him and very much part of his creative team, much loved by the fans. I still vividly recall her in a red and white striped top and white pants, walking from limo to the glass doors while we squealed with excitement and craned to get a peek. The Mainman crew (Warhol’s Cherry Vanilla and Leee Black-Childers et al) were all there. Lulu turned up. Wow. I mean, she was a mainstream entertainer and even she was entranced by the outsider transitioning to insider and cultural icon.

Of the fans, I made close friends with Dena, on whom I developed a crush, and her mate John Shipcott who would babysit Zowie (Duncan Jones) and thrill us with tales of hanging up David’s wonderful costumes and, glory of glories, show us photos of the house interior on pain of death if we told anyone. And Debbie who had the best Angie haircut thanks to an indulgent mum. I remember a guy called Henry who was a dead-ringer in his carroty spiked hair and Ziggy flash. It was all sparkle and glitter, lurex and spangles.

For the final three gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon I sprayed my green peplumed leather jacket silver (the one I wore to school instead of the requisite green serge blazer) and wore it with white trousers. My mother allowed me to wreck our beautiful Chinese parasol that smelt strongly of mothballs by gluing on big silver letters that spelt ‘David is my Nirvana’, ’cause I’d just learnt what Nirvana meant and felt this was an appropriate time to use it. When I opened it in the front row, I was rewarded with a kiss blown directly at me. I still recall the sensation of my heart thumping through my chest, tears wellng and my spirit soaring out of the top of my head. David had NOTICED me!

Buying front row tickets was a bit of a waste for as soon as the lights went down and Wendy Carlos’s ‘Ode to Joy’ (from Stanley Kubrick’s movie of Clockwork Orange) struck up with its ‘bom, bom, bom, bom’, everyone rushed the stage anyway. This was quite dangerous because the orchestra pit between us and beloved David was guarded by an iron rail that came up to mid-thigh, way below your centre of gravity. Your legs were seriously in danger of being broken in the crush. The security guards — who were far from modern thug bouncers and looked after the fans — regularly had to drag us over the rail and out of the melee.

Some harboured fantasies of then being led backstage where they could meet our hero but I suspected they’d just be released into the wilds of Hammersmith outside the back door and have to start all over again from the main entrance. I spent long periods of the three shows bracing myself on the shoulders of security, several of us sometimes leaning on each bloke. This meant that I could barely use my 8mm Bolex movie camera but I surreptitiously shot a fair bit and would take it to all my 1970s gigs. Sadly, my mother threw out my film years later, but that’s a horror story for another time.

The climax and moment of greatest tension … well, there were a few of those. ‘My Death’ when David left the longest pause and we all yelled, “ME!”. David going down on Ronno’s guitar. Or the end of the show wondering if there would be an encore and they’d all come back on and thunder through ‘White Light, White Heat’.

David-Bowie-fellatio-MIck-Ronson's-guitar

On the third and last night when my legs could no longer take it, I wandered into the almost empty Odeon lobby and perched on the Herbie VW car doing promo service for the movie due the following week. A tall bloke wandered over and struck up conversation and eventually asked me if I wanted to go to a party that night. I said yes and that’s how I ended up at the Café Royale in Regent Street for David’s retirement party. I may have been traumatised along with everyone else by his onstage confirmation that this would be his last gig, but going to the party was a powerful consolation prize.

Here we were in one of Oscar Wilde’s hangouts. Brian Conolly, blonde singer of The Sweet, was not terribly nice but Lulu, Angie and Mick Ronson were so kind. I was filming Lulu and Angie with my little Bolex when Angie said something I couldn’t hear and Lulu repeated it, saying, ‘She said you’re too gorgeous.’ By now I was feeling like Cinderella with three hours to go before pumpkin time.

When David walked in he filled the room which was already rammed with stars. He was short in stature but huge in spirit.

I was too shy to crash into his conversations but I did chat to Mick Ronson and took a selfie movie, now sadly gone with all my other 8mm footage and belongings  in the Great Mother’s Purge.

I took the film and projection kit into school when it came back from the developer’s for anyone who was interested – about half a dozen of us — and it dawned on me. Whatever the imagination-free say or do in their efforts to crush you underfoot or drive you under the tread of their tanks, there was indeed room in this world for someone like me.

At my lowest, when all the nightmares came today, his single ‘Ashes to Ashes’ was riding high in the charts. It formed the second bookend on my hopeful childhood and youth, the first being ‘Space Oddity’. I needed an axe to break the ice but that wouldn’t be happening any time soon. In the meantime, David provided a musical memory from which to draw strength and I thank him for that.

RIP David. Love ya. xxx

Anna hotpants 71 02 cropAnna the Bowie fan at 14 

[Edited 16.01.16 to say more about the music of Life on Mars]

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David Bowie IS V&A launch party review: music event of the year 2013

I’m posting various pieces I’ve written about David Bowie. Remember, David Bowie IS not was.

Republished from Madam Miaow Says 23.03.2013

The vast lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum had been turned into the sort of joint where beautiful young men and women press cocktails and bubbly onto you as soon as you walk in. Mini canapés appeared transported on futuristic illuminated platters like something out of the Korova Milk Bar in Clockwork Orange.

Yes, here we were at the David Bowie Is launch party, surely the music event of 2013.

We sipped Green Genies: vodka martinis with lychee juice and absinthe. The orange cocktail was the BEST! Passion fruit juice, vodka and ginger beer over crushed ice and sipped through a straw. I had four of those (see how pink I am in the photo?), came back home and caught Tescos open. Tried to buy the ingredients (I was pissed and not thinking straight, only I WANT) but was vetoed by CSM who bought me Irish Cream faux Baileys instead. Not the same. But I got to use my new Bowie tote bag. Which is orange.

The exhibition is huge and begins with oranges. (I’m spotting a colour theme.) I can’t possibly do it justice in 400 words but every corner yields something fascinating: the handwritten cost for a recording studio session (£149); videos; drawings; costumes galore.

It opens today. You have until August 11th to catch it when it begins a world tour. Some 47,000 advance tickets have been sold so hurry up and book.

Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray at the Bowie IS launch party

So here’s my review for the today’s Morning Star.

David Bowie Is
V & A 23 March – 11 August 2013
Review by Anna Chen — Morning Star

Nearly a decade with nary a squeak from the house-husband, and suddenly this embarrassment of riches arrives, hot on the heels of his new and most excellent album, The Next Day.

Here I am praying at the altar of David Bowie, the eagerly awaited launch of his very own exhibition at the V & A museum. My heart throbs, my eyes goggle. I’m falling in love all over again.

Wednesday’s launch party carried a fitting sense of occasion like the rock events of old. I say a quick hi to Noel Gallagher, ogle Bowie lookalike Tilda Swinton, listen to Tracy Emin’s speech about swigging sherry to early Bowie, and hear Gary Kemp plan a film about Bowie’s much-loved sidekick, the late Mick Ronson.

One glance at the heaving crowd and I realise that there’s a new measure of wealth and taste. Forget tight buns: the mark of today’s pampered elite is a tight face.

On entry, I am immediately transported back to my childhood as a serious Bowie kiddie, camping out all night to secure front-row tickets at the Hammersmith Odeon and Kilburn State Gaumont, and glimpsed in the DA Pennebaker Ziggy Stardust movie.

The radio-headset is a vital part of the experience, surrounding you with super-duper 3D audio as you walk around. I wasn’t sure what the Carl Andre floor tiles were doing in the first bit but it sets the scene for Bowie as Serious Artist, a status the rest of the exhibition confirms.

This extensive selection from the Bowie archive has everything a fan could wish for, barring the presence of the great man himself. From his earliest artistic influences (Warhol, Burroughs), his first appearance in the public eye as spokesperson for The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long Haired Men, the space race (Space Oddity, Starman): welcome to Bowie World.

The scraps of paper on which Bowie scribbled lyrics and notes demonstrate that this wasn’t someone merely churning out product: this was someone in the seat with the clearest view of worlds of imaginative possibility.

Many of the costumes on show seem strangely drab and unmagical without Bowie filling them out, but the wing-legged Kansai Yamamoto outfit shines (literally), as does the bizarre black and white one-piece (influence Sonia Delauney) beside a screen depicting it in action for Bowie’s stunning 1979 performance of The Man Who Sold the World on Saturday Night Live.

By the time we reach the final hall where thirty-foot-high Davids and Micks sing to us, I remember why I fell for him the first time round. I’m ready to do the whole thing again.

First published at the Morning Star and Madam Miaow Says

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Understanding the viciousness of the anti-Corbyn tendency: shades of the Paris Commune

Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC and the democratic process

Why has Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party with a massive 59.5 per cent provoked more fury among the centre-left than the predations of the right which still overwhelm us?

I’m bewildered by the preoccupation among good friends with diversions that have little to do with the big central crises facing us: worsening poverty and wars.

Broadly speaking, my anti-Corbyn friends are focusing on Westminster-bubble concerns such as the cabinet reshuffle; personalities (they don’t like Corbyn or his cohort); plus JC’s sympathy for the Palestinians and his criticism of Israel. What is going on with this endless stream of pieces on a reshuffle in which he sacked one person (shadow Culture Secretary and former SpAd/corporate lobbyist Michael Dugher) and moved another?

Compare this with Tony Blair’s nights, weeks, months and years of the long knives, when Blairites were parachuted into constituencies against the wishes of locals, and his removal of the authority of Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) as a means of centralising his power along presidential lines. Were Seumas Milne even half as thuggish as rottweiler Alastair ‘sexed-up dossier’ Campbell, the media would be having a conniption. Oh, they already are.

The rest of us see Corbyn as representing the first real hope for people devastated by decades of intensifying Tory and Tory-lite policies: food banks; the breaking of the NHS; ATOS savagery towards the disabled; the transfer of wealth from poor to rich as “austerity” (for us!) while the super-rich TRIPLED their wealth since the 2008 crash; the break-up of education (academies — imagine Toby Young as your mentor); crippling tuition fees; neglected flood defences; banking scandals where no-one is held to account; tax avoidance by massive corporations; a tanking economy disguised by various financial tricks and an artificially inflated housing bubble; another crash on the way but without the safety net of a China powerhouse this time; wars without end; a destroyed manufacturing base since Thatcher and now steel, coal and a burgeoning green energy industry killed off; fire sales of public assets; ownership of the media by a handful of moguls; increased poverty, homelessness, debt and hunger; hefty wage rises for the political class while we’re pauperised; and general selfish corruption permeating every walk of life.

However, in the official narrative the realproblem is … Jeremy Corbyn. We’re told that he’s so weird-beardy extreme that he couldn’t possibly win a general election, but the consequence of their efforts to undermine him could well be the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and an unintended demonstration of a contempt for democracy – remember, Corbyn’s leadership has a greater democratic mandate (almost 60 per cent of the selectorate) than any Labour Party leader of recent times, including Blair – which matches that of the Tories. Meanwhile, the notional ‘centre’ of British (and American) politics has moved so far to the right than it currently enshrines policies and attitudes at which even Thatcher and Reagan (during their first terms, anyway) would have baulked.

When the right and the soi-disant ‘moderates’ attack Corbyn, we see an attack not on one individual and his cohort, but on everyone trying to mount a challenge to the rich who are taking everything that isn’t nailed down, and damn the rest of us to hell. This is class war and it’s being waged unopposed by the richest class against us. We’re not allowed to defend ourselves. And whilst the membership of the Labour Party swells, the degree of influence which the party establishment wishes to allow that membership to wield proportionately decreases. In other words, STFU and stuff those envelopes!

Even conservatives like Nick Robinson and Peter Hitchens are worried by the concerted media assault on JC, while mainstream journalists Roy Greenslade and Nic Outterside are questioning the ethics of our partisan press. The blogosphere has rushed to ensure that the public is kept informed of the truth … which should be the BBC’s job, but – as that ship has sailed – we’re largely reliant on blogs such as evolvepolitics.com to fill in the gaps.

Laura Kuenssberg, BBC hit-woman for Cameron

VERY posh girl Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News Political Editor, was only serving her class when she and Andrew Neil facilitated Cameron’s ambush of JC and the rest of us by orchestrating the resignation of Labour MP Stephen Doughty in the studio five minutes before PMQs. Their boast of how they achieved this interference with the democratic process was deleted from the BBC website but you can read a cached version of it here.

So far over 10,000 people have signed the Change.org petition to sack Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil for manipulating the news rather than reporting it. BBC impartiality is now a joke. Instead of speaking truth to power and challenging it, they suck up to it. Although, given Kuenssberg’s background, she’s not so much twanging the vocal cords of her masters’ voice as much as taking a vocal solo with it. I am sure her rewards will be great now she’s made her bones with her class peers. Has she reserved a space on her office wall for the wooden shield on which she’d like to display Corbyn’s head as a hunting trophy?

One of the comments at Nic Outtenden’s incisive piece reminds us: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” ― George Orwell.

I always wondered what kind of sicko poked out the eyes of women communards with their parasols when the Paris Commune was crushed in 1871. Now I feel I know. And it’s not a pretty sight.

First posted at Madam Miaow Says

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Heaven Sent Doctor Who episode satisfies this SF critic at last: five-star review

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

It is always good to be brought into the light, even though it may take an age: better late than never. And so the theme of Heaven Sent, the penultimate episode in the latest series of Doctor Who, brings me to my knees in grateful awe. Heaven Sent knocked me off my cynical perch where I’ve been nailed ever since Russell T Davies rebooted the Time Lord franchise to dreary derivative effect. And may I say I have never been happier to have had my opinions reversed so totally even if this turns out to be one glorious, single, solitary, diamond-perfect episode before it all goes back to normal.

Quite staggering in its concept and clever in its execution, this episode never makes a wrong turn. Blessed relief to find histrionics kept to a minimum, only reflecting the Doctor’s impossible predicament and thus earning him the right to emote furiously, epically and truthfully. At last, Steven Moffat gives Peter Capaldi a script worthy of his talent and our expectations.

A grieving Doctor is deposited in a vast unrealisable castle, who-knows-where, which turns out to be a gigantic puzzle reminiscent of the classic The House That Jack Built episode (1966) that had Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel so thoroughly trapped and beaten in The Avengers series.

Pursued relentlessly by The Veil, a monstrous shade of Death, it is only when the Doctor solves the first bit of the puzzle that we realise how difficult this challenge is. He is forced to struggle across all his levels of existence, from his deepest inner nightmares, to engagement with the ghost of Clara, to his survival on a colossal cosmic scale, and is tried to his utmost ingenuity and courage.

“How many seconds in eternity?”, he asks. Not such an empty question as you might think.

A truthful confession dredged out of his deepest recesses stops The Veil in its tracks and resets the castle, whose floors and rooms rotate and move, for the next stage of the chase. Here, even the constellations are all wrong: the stars tell him that his very own torture chamber is 7,000 years in the future. How long has he been playing this game? Will he work out his ultimate escape? Will he run out of confessions?

Piece by piece he solves the puzzle and escapes death time and time again. Who was the owner of the skull he finds at the top of the tower still attached by electrodes? What is the meaning of the word written in the dust? He discovers that the castle is an island surrounded by a sea of human skulls. What cruelty has the castle’s creator unleashed on these poor souls?

And yet, as in all the best stories, beneath the byzantine puzzle, there is a simple explanation whose driving force shoots this episode to the front of SF screen rankings.

Our Doctor finally reaches the Home room, the square at the end of the game, where the Tardis and escape is set tantalisigly the other side of a crystal wall. At 400 times the hardness of diamond and twenty feet thick, it is impossible to penetrate. And yet, this surely has to be the moment he vanquishes? Well, yes, but not in the way you might expect.

What follows is a tour de force sequence that satisfies every demand for great story-telling. The moment you realise how the Doctor is going to win takes your breath away and is beautiful in its simple, profound truth. Here is eternity in a grain of sand, heaven in a flower. You could almost call this Triumph of the Will, but let’s not go there.

So, bravo, Steven Moffat. It didn’t take you a billion years to get here after all. It only felt like it. Salud.

Where to watch Heaven Sent.
On iPlayer.

*****

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Cat conversation on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership contest

“Waddya think of this leadership contest?”
“It don’t half exposes the contradictions in the bourgeois democracy.”
“Ya reckon?”
“Just a bit!”
“They really don’t want the one with the beard to win, do they?”
“The one with the eyelashes fancies his chances.”
“I don’t. He’s deader than that mouse you found.”
“At least the mouse didn’t beg for his life the way eyelash boy did.”
“The little one looks like she’d confiscate your bikkies given half a chance.”
“And the other one would rub your nose in your own poo if you even looked at her funny.”
“Better than rubbing it in her poo, for which I hear she has form.”
“Beardie would give you the prawns off his own plate. ‘Stroo!”
“Let’s go and rub ourselves against his legs.”
“Okay but try not to trip him up. No point doing their job for them.”
“Race ya. Last one on his lap’s got fleas!”
‘C’mere. You need a wash first. You always show me up.”

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Poem for Jeremy Corbyn: Labour Pains

No slouching towards Westminster by JC. 

Here’s my poem about the current welcome rush to the heart and head. I guess that makes me a Poet for Jeremy Corbyn.

LABOUR PAINS

We snapped on a light
and in the glare all was laid bare.
Suddenly Yvette Cooper wasn’t so super,
Kendall won’t mend anything at all
‘cause Liz fights tooth and claw for biz.
As for principles, Andy says burn ‘em.
But the latecomer nails jelly to the wall,
walks tall among the fallen,
cuts a swathe through those in thrall
to the false gods in the shopping maul.
Looking like Santa, cast as Satan,
working like a dynamo, everybody’s smitten.
Bottle what he’s made of, someone nab the patent,
before the bloody Blairites get their twisted knickers straightened.
Groping in the gloom we’d forgotten how to stand,
the air up here so fresh and clean, the view they tried to ban.
Blinking in the sunlight, nerves and sinews flex,
this is how hope feels, it’s betterer than sex.
A pole star restored, a fiery dawn,
this way something bright is born.

Anna Chen
3rd August 2015

Anna Chen’s collection of poetry, Reaching for my Gnu, is published by Aaaargh! Press


Margaret Thatcher Died at the Ritz (2013)

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