Awful small affair, to girl with mousy hair

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Yours truly has nothing new to say about David Bowie – then again, who did – only my own two-penneth to add.

In common with most people born in the 1960s and raised alongside Bowie’s steady rise from avant-gardist to mainstream pop star (then back and forth), news of his demise hit with a wallop last Monday morning.

Not, it should be stressed, that I was his biggest fan. The 70s and early 80s albums are great, but much ‘fore and aft is so-so, often downright oh no. This said, what I like I love, and regard as among the most challenging and provocative music ever to win a huge mainstream audience. I mean, even Let’s Dance, as pure and poppy a tune as any chart-topper in history, is lyrically bleak, an existential meditation on doomed love in the age of Mutually Assured Destruction. ‘Put on your red shoes and dance the blues…’

Fine art with mass appeal, a body of work that transcends ‘entertainment’, that at best has weight and meaning, while also being spectacularly entertaining.

The star status which followed, of course, enabled his contribution to the social mores of the past 40-odd years. Did any single figure of that era do more to change popular attitudes to questions of gender and sexuality? All of which, of course, completely passed by Times HACK and aristocrat Camilla Long. Fatally for a culture correspondent, she displayed an ear of pure tin, committed a howling category error in choosing to castigate Bowie devotees sharing their sorrow via social media. Using at times abusive language, Long – a descendant of the fourth Duke of Newcastle – tore into them as gawkers, piggybacking on the grief of any old deceased celeb.

Obviously she is of an age – 37 – that Bowie’s best work was long past by the time her own interest in matters musical will have matured, but all the same. When your bread and butter is critical appraisal of culture, a sound grasp of what went before, particularly the more significant contributors, would – you’d think – be a prerequisite.

Still, am sure she’ll be fine. Britain’s broadsheet media is, if nothing else, a haven for the well-born and well-connected. Times readers, however, might be a harder sell. Can they still take seriously an arts correspondent who mistook David Bowie for a mere celebrity rather than one of the few creative individuals of the past 50 years to actually merit so overwhelming an emotional response?