Where the fuck did Monday go?

There’s some strange bird mewling in the palm tree but I can’t get a sight of it. The doves are mourning, you might say, but really that’s just their way of talking to each other. Grey cloudy day so far but that will change. It’s already hot and humid and, if the sun comes out, will get hotter. I’ve got a meeting to go to in Bellevue Hill at one o’clock. I should take my togs and go on to Shark Bay for a swim after, but I probably won’t. These days I’m happiest at home even though I don’t do much except read and, if I’m lucky, write. I seem to spend as much time waiting to write as I did when I was young; the only difference between then and now is that then, I usually didn’t and now I usually do. But it’s starting again every time. Space Oddity was where Bowie began for me, I was seventeen and living in Upper Hutt and listening to the radio. And this amazing song just came out of the ether. It was somehow more significant than the moon landing that happened around the same time. Or perhaps I mean it was the soundtrack to the images. Didn’t an astronaut, later, sing a version of it from space? A few years later I was squatting in an old farm house north of Auckland and we had a copy of Hunky Dory that was always on the turntable. That, and Transformer, which are forever paired in my mind. We used to put on lipstick and eye shadow before we went out scrub-cutting, which was difficult for the farmers who were our bosses, but we didn’t care. I missed really engaging with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane but do remember a friend returning from London about that time looking like he’d just stepped offstage after a gig with the Spiders from Mars. Velvet flares, platform soles, the works. Because when those albums came out I was starting a new life in Wellington, Red Mole was building and we were arrogant enough to think we could make our own moon landings, our own soundtracks, our own images of the here and the now and the beyond. Were we wrong? I used to listen to Fripp and Eno electronica in those years, Terry Riley too, and I remember a long piece in Cabaret Pekin 1949 that was mimed to Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, which I think is a Roxy Music track. The later 70s music reached me by some weird kind of osmosis: I never owned the albums but I know all the songs. Go figure. Though many years later I did pick up a copy of Lodger somewhere and murdered it but that must have been in the 1990s. Not that it matters. When Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) came out I was in Auckland doing lighting for bands and we played it so much I still know the whole damned thing by heart. Ditto with Let’s Dance, by which time (1983) I was in Sydney but still working with bands. Gee Ling, whom Leon Narbey cast in Illustrious Energy, was the China Girl in the video. I thought that was pretty cool. There was a rumour going around in those days that Bowie was going to buy Selinas, the venue in the Coogee Bay Hotel, and everyone hoped it was true but it didn’t happen. The video for the title track of that album was partly shot in a pub in a small outback town in NSW and the protagonists are a young Aboriginal couple. At the end you see an atomic explosion on the skyline past Sydney and the mob the young couple belong to kick those red shoes into the dirt and go back to the bush. When you look at it now it seems both dated and prescient at the same time. I heard, courtesy Stuart Coupe on FBI, an excellent cover, with slide guitar, of Modern Love by the Last Town Chorus as I was driving over to Bellevue Hill. On the way back I kept playing track five from The Next Day, his penultimate album, about going back to Berlin. ‘As soon as you know you know you know.’ Tonight, chronologically, was the next album after Let’s Dance, he said he made it just to keep his hand in and also so that all those new fans stayed listening. Loving the Alien is a great track. So’s the title song. Then there’s the Beach Boys cover: ‘If you should ever leave me / my life would still go on / believe me.’ I didn’t buy any more albums after that, apart of course from Lodger. I kind of lost track of him. For me he was in abeyance. I tried listening to Tin Machine but the music was too harsh and jagged. Remember Hallo Space Boy (‘moon dust will cover you’) but only in the Pet Shop Boys remixed version. For a long while I would wonder, idly, what had happened to him. So there for a time and then so hardly there at all; but I’m speaking as a casual admirer not a rusted on fan. Just before Christmas last the osmosis started to work again. I heard about a new song, Blackstar, and watched the video . . . several times. Then, last week, Lazarus – again I mean the video. I showed them to Maggie and Ella before they went away on their cruise and they both hooted with laughter. To them the clips were cheesy melodrama, though Maggie allowed she would listen to the songs as music. They have a different gravitas now of course. So then I got hold of Blackstar, the album, and started to listen to that. And then, not very long after (Monday), I’m sitting on the couch listening to it and reading the lyrics online and there’s this status update and it says he’s dead. Dead? How can he be dead? I can hear him singing: ‘Where the fuck did Monday go?’ Is this some kind of sick hoax? Well, it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a marketing coup or a career move either. Instead, a consummate exit from an ultimate showman. Can’t say I feel grief, exactly. More like gratitude for the many lovely, sometimes joyous but often very sad songs that have been coursing through my head ever since. He was a great singer of other people’s tunes too. Meanwhile that strange bird keeps on crying from the palm tree outside. I still don’t know what it is.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Where the fuck did Monday go?

  1. Nice piece. Taking Tiger Mountain was Eno’s second solo album – follow up to Here Come The Warm Jets.

  2. hi martin, you have written a beautiful, brilliant piece about david bowie. thank you.

    • me

      Thank you, Richard – much appreciated. Nothing really seems adequate to the occasion but there’s still the need to say something . . .

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