Monthly Archives: January 2014

Bowie notes

David Bowie – Video Killed The Radio Star, Sky Arts 1, 24, 26, 27 January

If you didn’t catch this TV show

a) you didn’t miss much

b) Sky will undoubtedly repeat it over and over and

c) I don’t need a better excuse to play this slightly less famous footage:

This wasn’t in the show, of course, as the theme was video but I’d rather watch a great classic live performance like this as a reminder of true genius than an overexposed video. The programme suggests that Bowie was perfect for the MTV video era. There was Ashes To Ashes and Let’s Dance… and then… well, didn’t he go completely crap just as MTV was taking over? Still, Sky Arts, bless them, think that having licence to include a handful of very familiar clips is enough quality to carry this shabby package. Speaking to camera, video directors (and Robert Elms) offer a few words about the making of these iconic videos…except they reveal nothing. David wanted the sky to go black and they can do that so they did. Sky didn’t bother asking how or why of course.

The brief edits of Bowie himself will be familiar to fans but one bit that sparked my imagination was this from DB:

“Sixteen, school leaving age: I went to an advertising agency. One thing that came out of the advertising thing, I think, was learning about storyboarding and putting your ideas down on paper in chronological order. That really came out of advertising, I think, and that stayed with me. So right from the beginning I was storyboarding videos.”

I’d like to say that, although the V&A “Bowie Is” exhibition successfully conveyed something of the breadth of the Bowie phenomenon, it’s really only the music that affects me. I’d like to say that but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It would be like claiming you can disregard the cultural significance and listen to The Beatles as just music. The things I liked most at the V&A and yearned to see more of, however, were not the stage outfits but the notebooks, lyrics and storyboards, the stuff in his own hand. I know I’m probably in a small minority on this and most fans respond strongly to the aspects of an artist that are the most extraordinary, most removed from everyday banality and the fans’ own behaviour and capabilities. To me, though, bits of paper, notes, doodles and drafts, which are made from such humble materials that they are within the grasp of anyone, can capture something truly remarkable and revealing about the creative process. I love art books that show working drawings and plans. One of my favourite exhibitions at the National Gallery was one juxtaposing drawings from different eras so you not only glimpsed behind the scenes and saw rarely viewed pieces but were somehow sucked right in to witness raw talent in the process of creating. In fact, the first time I was ever taken to an art gallery as a child, it was to the National Gallery and the intimate, dimly lit room that housed the Leonardo cartoon. I remember the tremendous sense of awe.

Getting back to the Bowie quote, it reminded me of one of the few useful truths to emerge from that depressing plethora of “improve your brainpower” self-help books (so end of the last century! I hope.) Tony Buzan (The Mind Map Book) pointed out that “Those considered to be “Great Brains” in the fields of art, science, politics, literature, the military, business and education have all used notes to help them think.” And “It is important to make a clear distinction between note-making and note-taking. Note-making means organising your own thoughts, often in a creative, innovative way. Note-taking means summarising someone else’s thoughts as expressed in a book, article or lecture.”

Leonardo, Picasso, Newton, Edison, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Columbus, Blake, Kennedy, Darwin… all used notebooks creatively not just  as a repository for ideas but as an incubator of ideas.

If Alan Yentob met up with Bowie in 2014 to look through his notebooks and chew the fat over the creative process a) I’d pay my money right now and b) maybe with more worthy efforts from Sky, Buzan’s list could be updated to include examples of living rather than long dead brains.



The Lists page now has three pages. Compiling these was mainly for my own benefit, to focus my thoughts. A lot of music fans find something that obsesses them and play it to death but I worry that I’m inclined to do the opposite i.e. buy masses of stuff and then revisit tracks after a while in case I’ve neglected them. Hopefully, now that I’ve finished reviewing last year and got the website started (ironing out annoying design features took way more time than compiling pages) the new year can get rolling. And, ahem, rocking.

Moon b to w

A i U

2013 was not a great year for alternative/ indie/ underground music. It took David Bowie coming out of retirement to remind us how powerful and absorbing modern, plugged-in and switched-on rock can and should be. Whenever you looked through the shelves in shops, scanned the charts or flicked through the music magazines, the domination of celebrity solo artists was a depressing constant. Where were the bands?

2014 promises to be better (Lennon: “It couldn’t get much worse!”). I’m looking forward to new albums from Warpaint… 


and Broken Bells…

in the early weeks and Interpol, The Black Keys, Django Django, The Horrors and Lola Colt later in the year. Reasons to be cheerful.