Remembering David Bowie

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“WE’RE not sanctifying him,” Mark Radcliffe said of David Bowie about an hour into his programme on Sunday morning, “we’re appreciating him.”

Really? BBC radio’s Bowie Five Years On, on the fifth anniversary of his death, felt like a sanctification at times.

Not that I was complaining. I’ve always loved Bowie, though my late wife loved him more. So, a day dedicated to the man and his music on the fifth anniversary of his death seemed like a gift, though when Radcliffe played Win from Young Americans – the song we played at Jeanie’s funeral – I did have to step away from the radio for a moment.

Bowie Five Years On covered much of the BBC’s coverage last weekend, from Johnnie Walker’s ever-reliable Sounds of the 70s, to Soul Music on Radio 4 focusing on the importance of Bowie’s Life on Mars in the lives of the programme’s guests.

Bowie himself turned up a couple of times, picking the tunes on 6 Music (a repeat of a 1979 show in which he proved a slightly diffident DJ but one with mostly immaculate taste – I can live without The Doors, myself) and in David Bowie: Verbatim on Radio 4’s Archive on 4 slot on Saturday.

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Apart from Sean Grundy’s Sunday afternoon drama Low, Bowie was one of the few voices heard all weekend that actually dared question his own choices, even if he did play them for laughs.

And so, speaking about his quest to give up drugs in the mid-1970s he pointed out: “I ended up in Berlin the smack capital of Europe … And who did I take with me? Iggy Pop, who was trying to get off smack.”

At the heart of the Bowie love-in was the simulcast of the programme Bowie Dancing Out in Space on both Radio 4 and 6 Music on Sunday night.

Presented by Stuart Maconie, it offered no central thesis but reflected and refracted various elements of Bowie’s story – performance, jazz, modern art, bisexuality – through celebrity fans, ranging from Grayson Perry to author Deborah Levy, all of whom were in his debt.

On Bowie’s claims of bisexuality, Perry suggested, “You could say it was a cynical territory grab.” But then he went on to suggest that Bowie’s willingness to experiment was very much part of his appeal.

“He was up there on stage for all the people who felt like they were different, alone, and nobody else was like them.”

Theories can only take you so far, though. At one point Ricky Gervais was doing his best to explain why Bowie mattered as Sweet Thing/Candidate from Diamond Dogs played in the background. Eventually Gervais faded out and the music carried on, proving Bowie’s worth more eloquently than any of the words we say about him ever could.

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